Chiwog tshogpa can authenticate source

Yeshey Lhadon

Despite claims that farmers and vendors need not have “no certification from anyone,” it was found that an authentication letter from the gewog agriculture extension office is mandatory for farmers and vendors selling chillies, beans and cauliflower at the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM).

The agriculture ministry banned the import of chillies, beans and cauliflowers since July 2016 to ensure healthy consumption. Farmers and vendors at the CFM selling these three vegetables have to produce an authentication letter to prove that the products are local and not imported.

A farmer, Choki selling chillies a few weeks ago was warned by Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) officials that she would not be permitted to sell her chillies if she fails to prove that her chillies are locally grown.

Choki said that she couldn’t bring her chillies to the CFM because she couldn’t visit the agriculture extension officer in Punakha. Choki came to the CFM last Friday without the letter. “It was raining and I couldn’t visit the gewog extension office at Kabesa, Punakha,” she said. “I got warned. They said they will seize my chillies if I don’t produce the letter from the gewog.”

The Director General of BAFRA, Dr Tashi Samdrup confirmed that it is mandatory to produce a source-authentication letter for chillies, beans and cauliflowers.

There were some consumers who complained that the vendors were selling banned vegetables. Thus, the gewog agriculture extension officers started issuing authentication letters.

The chief of BAFRA, Dr Chador Wangdi said that the authentication letter was required in all the markets nationwide and not just in Thimphu. The authentication letter is to make sure that the vendors are not selling banned vegetables.

“It’s difficult to differentiate locally produced chillies from imported ones as they both look the same. But we can make a difference between the Indian cauliflowers and the ones grown in the country,” said Dr Chador Wangdi. BAFRA officials at the markets implement the rule. “BAFRA will not allow anyone to sell chillies, beans or cauliflowers in the market unless the seller shows the authentication letter,” said Dr Chador Wangdi.

Phub Dorji, a farmer from Paro sold 10 bags of beans to a vegetable wholesaler at CFM, Dema Yangzom. He said, “The wholesaler refused to buy my beans until I handed her the authentication letter from my gewog extension officer.”

Dema Yangzom said that the BAFRA officials wouldn’t let her sell the beans to the vendors at CFM without the authentication letter.

Deki Yangzom, another vendor at the CFM said that vendors take the farmer to the BAFRA office if they don’t carry the authentication letter. “BAFRA issues us a token and keeps the authentication letter. The token reflects the quantity of chillies we bought. We will be fined or our goods seized if we can’t produce the letter.”

Whenever farmers fail to show the authentication letter, BAFRA inspectors at CFM call gewog agriculture officers to verify the source of the vegetables.

BAFRA chief inspector at CFM, Tenzin said that one vendor tried to sell illegally imported produce lying to BAFRA inspectors saying that it’s Bhutanese produce. “When we cross checked, the gewog agriculture extension officer found out that the vendor lied,” he said.

“We are trying to help our consumers and local vegetable growers. It might have caused some hassle to local vegetable growers, but the authentication letter is not to discourage our local vegetable growers.”

The agriculture minister, Yeshey Penjor, refuted a similar Kuensel story last week on social media, accusing Kuensel is “full of outdated information.” While the Kuensel story was on local produce, the minister commented on not needing “certification from anyone for all imports are strictly regulated through MDPs.”

The Director of the Department of Agriculture, Kinlay Tshering said that the restriction on the import of chillies, beans and cauliflowers was put in place to protect the health of Bhutanese consumers. She said, “We didn’t do away with the authentication letter. We are relaxed; we don’t instruct people everyday to produce the authentication letter for every local produce other than beans, cauliflowers and chillies.”

Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor clarified that the authentication letter is still required. He said that the agriculture ministry once tried to do away with this requirement. “Once we started relaxing, illegal practices were increasing. So, authentication is necessary,” he said. He added that to ease the situation, farmers now need not visit the gewog administration. “They can approach their chiwog tshogpa to get their produce verified.”