Consumers unhappy with vegetable price hike during lockdown

Choki Wangmo 

Since December 24, 192 metric tonnes (MT) of imported vegetables have reached Thimphu in addition to 16 MT of locally grown fruits, vegetables, and more than 6,000 bundles of leafy vegetables sourced from various dzongkhags.

Consumers, however, were unhappy with the hiked prices.

Although the agriculture ministry fixed farmgate prices from which the wholesale and retail prices are derived, many said that the prices of the vegetables were extremely high.

According the maximum retail price fixed by the ministry, selling price in retail shops for a kilogram (kg) of small green chilli is Nu 401 and a kg of big green chilli is Nu 334.

But in his appeal to farmers, the agriculture minister on his social media wrote that a kg of green chilli at source costs more than Nu 500 which could reach Nu 700 once distributed in the market. “If consumers fail to consume local produce, the only option is imported items,” Lyonpo wrote.

He asked the farm producers not to take advantage of the unprecedented situations.

Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives, Ugyen Penjore, said to ensure implementation of fixed prices, the prices had been shared through various modes of communication, including direct communication to the wholesalers, retailers and also to the growers through the dzongkhag and gewog agricultural officers.

“The ministry has requested the OCP to monitor and enforce the final selling prices,” he said, adding that shops should prominently display daily prices of vegetables.

He, however, said that the price change depends on the change in farmgate prices. If the farmgate price is set too high, the retail price is also high and affects the general consumers.“ If it is too low, the returns may not cover the cost of farmers’ investment and may discourage farming in the near future and this will have a negative impact on the agriculture sector.”

In such situations like the nationwide lockdown, he said that due to shortage of supply, many took advantage of the shortage of supply in the market by raising prices.

Identified wholesalers have started distributing to retails shops in the various zones. “We are optimistic that once the system is in place, supply and availability will improve,” he said.

To ensure continued supply in their shops, he urged retail shops to place orders for vegetables to last at least for two days since the same wholesalers have to cater to many shops in the zones. “The retail shops must keep enough stocks to cater to different time segments in the zones.”

Considering the difficulty the whole nation is going through as opposed to just making profits, the orientation should be more towards providing services equitably, he added.

Founder of Vegetables on Wheels, Sangay Nedup, said that the shop had supplied about 8MT of vegetables across Thimphu to vendors in the last two days.

He procured vegetables from Punakha, Tsirang, and Dagana.

He said that the farmers were well paid since the farmgate price was attractive except for few vegetables like beans and cauliflowers but it was loss to suppliers like him.

For example, he received ginger from Tsirang, whose farmgate price was Nu 98, and wholesaler price was Nu 107. However, he had to buy and sell at a wholesaler price, without any profit. “Considering workload and transportation, it is a loss.”

He said that if the government fixed prices in collaboration with suppliers, it would be practical as they are aware of the issues at ground.

About 10-20 percent of goods were damaged, he said.

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