Covid-19 scare leads to vegetable price escalation

Choki Wangmo

Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) in Thimphu had run out of chilies yesterday even at an exorbitant rate of Nu 400-500 per kilogram.

In two days’ time, the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has received 36 complaints related to price escalation of vegetables.

A kilogram of chili normally costs Nu 100 to 200. Following Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor’s Facebook announcement about temporary restriction on imported vegetables in the wake of Covid-19, there was a sudden rush at the market and subsequent price rise.

A customer said that the authorities should check and monitor the vegetable prices. “Most of the vegetables now cost double the normal price now. “Last Saturday, a kilogram of cauliflower was Nu 80. Now it is Nu 150.”

Yesterday, a man walked into the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority’s (BAFRA) office. He said that the price of doma had increased from Nu 40 to Nu 100 within a day.

Chief programme officer of OCP, Jigme Dorji, said that upon receiving information about the price hike on the vegetables, particularly chilies, the department deployed teams to the vegetable markets and advised the vendors to refrain from charging unreasonable prices.

He said brokers and agents inflated the price and the office was tracing them to establish the rationale behind price hike.

To avoid price escalation and hoarding of essential commodities in the market, OCP in collaboration with other departments of the economic affairs’ ministry has formed teams to carry out regular market surveillance and monitoring.

The team is expected to sensitise business entities on legal requirements to engage in fair trade practices and to avoid charging unreasonable prices and also to educate them on the consequences of unethical trade practices.

“The office has directed the regional trade and industry office to form teams in collaboration with dzongkhag, drungkhag and gewog administrations to continue carrying out similar tasks,” Jigme Dorji said.

A BAFRA official said that vendors did not have a choice when the brokers raised the price of the vegetables. “The broker might pay Nu 100/kg to a farmer but he charges Nu 350 from the vegetable vendors.”

He also said that the sellers could be taking advantage of the situation when there is rush to the market to panic-buy.

The Department of Agriculture (DoA), in a move to encourage local production yesterday, announced that the department in collaboration with the National Land Commission and Thimphu Thromde was mobilising land and other resources. Land would be made available for people to be used as kitchen garden.

DoA will carry out initial land development and seed supply activities. Interested individuals and laid-off workers can apply for land.

“Tourism Council of Bhutan is coordinating with the tourism companies to engage laid-off workers in agriculture,” says DoA’s announcement.

Yesterday evening, agriculture ministry issued a notification stating that the ministry did not issue official notification banning the import of fruits and vegetables and the public should not be confused. Import, however, will be subject to coronavirus containment protocols at entry points.

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