Choki Wangmo 

The agriculture ministry is awaiting approval from the national taskforce for Covid-19 to allow farmers to move in and around their farms across the country to harvest vegetables delayed in the backdrop of the lockdown since Tuesday.

Worried farmers had reached out to various officials to save their yield which might rot any time soon if the lockdown continues.

Laid off tour guides working in the urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu said that they were trying to contact agriculture officials to pick chillies but did not receive any positive response yet. Considering market viability, most growers cultivated chillies which have shorter shelf life if not harvested on time.

Recognising farmers’ concern, Thimphu dzongkhag, starting yesterday, deployed pickup trucks to collect vegetables from farmers across the gewogs. Within two days of nationwide lockdown, the dzongkhag has received queries from worried farmers about their products which were either harvested or in the fields ready for harvest.

The dzongkhag agriculture officer, Sonam Zangpo, said that the vegetables would be bought at a buy-back price or negotiated price from farmers and then supplied within the dzongkhag. The surplus would be sold to the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL) depots.

The procurement would be carried out with the help of gewog agriculture officials. The farmers would be encouraged to harvest the mature ones or to sell the already harvested produce.

Although the demand for fruits and vegetables was low on the first day of lockdown, it has increased since the second day. The dzongkhag is expecting increasing demand in the coming days. According to demand from FCBL and the Department of Agricultural and Marketing Cooperatives, the dzongkhag would start bulk marketing from farmers, said Sonam Zangpo.

Thimphu has two taskforces—dzongkhag and thromde—to supply and deliver essential food items and vegetables.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjore said farmers in urban areas like Thimphu and Phuentsholing faced the challenges to market their farm produce due to lockdown. He said that the farmers should contact dzongkhag agriculture officials if they want to sell their produce, who will then arrange collection points.

The thromdes and the agriculture department has an agreement whereby the agriculture officials will collect from the source and bring till the distribution point from which the thromde would be responsible for door-to-door service.

In his Facebook page, the lyonpo announced: “Essential food items are stocked by FCBL and private wholesale dealers. Dzongkhag agriculture officers and gewog extension officers will do the stock taking of available vegetables and report to Covid-19 logistics taskforce. Distributions will be undertaken by those at the frontline under the guidance of respective regional Covid-19 taskforce.”

Meanwhile, a DCM truckload of vegetables and fruits worth Nu 430,000 had been stranded in Olakha since the morning of the lockdown. The owner of the produce imported from India said that few De-Suups came to examine but left after finding that the produce was from India.

The owner said that she requested the agencies to allow her to deliver to households but did not receive any directives.

“It is a huge loss. I wish we were allowed to deliver so that we earn income to survive,” she said adding that she even requested the officials that she would quarantine herself once they complete delivery.

At the press conference on August 12, the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, said that villagers could work in their own fields or herd their livestock. However, they cannot organise work with hired labour.