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The crisis of vegetables, particularly chili, is dominating national news, yet the government has too little to address such a crisis. This crisis is hitting hard both farmers and consumers, especially the lower-income group. Farmers, the actual producers often claim they are paid too little, consumer complaints of exorbitant market prices. Many blame the vendors or the middlemen.

The latest data on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) revealed it decreased to 7.52 percent in November from 8.02 in July. The purchasing power of the Ngultrum dropped by 6.99 percent. With such situation, some families are already forced and many more will be forced to consume either one or two varieties of vegetable since their income cannot afford most of the vegetables in the market at existing prices.

Article 7(1) of our Constitution makes the right to life as a fundamental right. This Right to life does not mean, mere existence or surviving a life. That is why, Article 9 of the constitution mandates the state to “ensure a good quality of life, promote conditions to GNH and “secure adequate livelihood” and promote fair market competition. The current government’s promise is narrowing the gap between rich and poor.

Similarly, the 2019 National Health Policy mandates the government to ensure good quality of life and safe food to reduce “micronutrient deficiency diseases through multi-sectoral approach” and promote breastfeeding and appropriate nutrition to the infants. The World Health Organization recognized that “governments have a central role in creating a healthy food environment that enables people to adopt and maintain healthy dietary practices including policies on use, accessibility, affordability, pricing and choice of fresh fruits, vegetables and nutritious food to everyone. The Food and Agriculture Organization recommended member states to come up with legal frameworks to ensure “right to adequate food, nutrition” and to secure the right to food including access, affordability or price and choice of food, fruits, and vegetables.

However, the current crisis shows that we are moving in the opposite direction. Annual Health Bulletin 2020 revealed that non-communicable diseases are increasingly becoming a “leading cause of death” besides substantial burden on the health system mainly caused by “not consuming” nutritious food. The sudden hike in the price of vegetables poses a great threat to access to nutritious food, as the lower-income group can no longer afford nutritious food. The situation undermines the fundamentals of national health policies and contradicts the government’s policy of narrowing the gap as both farmers and consumers are suffering because of the failure of the state.

For example, most vendors who are often considered a factor for causing the price hike neither pay any taxes nor are licensed business entities. The Dzongkhag Agriculture sector has failed its duties to protect farmers, as access to market remains a distant dream.

The failures of the government and sufferings caused to both farmers and consumers, and the existence of unregulated vendors calls for a food security law.  Such law can provide detailed mandates of various state agencies responsible for food security and vendors. Such law provides legal mechanisms of state facilitated access to the market for farmers irrespective of location, accessibility and affordability for consumers and strong accountability of officials and vendors. The current situation demands our legislature to think of ways to protect both producers and consumers.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

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