Alleged strong-arm tactics of the Tsirang collective have ruffled many feathers  

TPC: Poultry farmers feel cooperatives are monopolising the market.  Cooperatives, like a Bhutanese maxim says, feel farmers are finding sides on an egg in the egg business in Tsirang, the so called the egg capital of the country.

The bone of contention is the mandatory rule of having to sell all eggs to the Tsirang Poultry Cooperative (TPC).  It prohibits even non-members of the cooperative from selling eggs to other dzongkhags.  Farmers are not welcoming this, as they feel that they have the right to sell what they produce.

With the cooperative intensifying the membership drive, they have tied up with the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA), whereby the latter allows eggs to exit Tsirang only with a permit from the TPC.

If people are caught transporting eggs without the cooperative’s seal to other dzongkhags, consignments are seized and a penalty imposed, which is double the price of the eggs they are carrying.

Poultry farmers say the decision to sell their products should be left to them.  They claim that farmers, who have refused to become members of the TPC, were intimidated to join.  A poultry farmer from Gosaling gewog, Dilliram Wakhlay, said he was forced indirectly. “They said that I wouldn’t get chicks and feeds if I don’t become a member,” he said.  Dilliram now wants to withdraw his membership.

Farmers like Dilliram prefer to sell eggs in Thimphu and Wangduephodrang, as it is not profitable to sell to the cooperatives. “We’re not here to provide livelihood to the people working in the cooperatives from our profits.”

Tsirang livestock officer, Dorji Wangchuk, said some non-members have lodged complaints with the department of livestock in the dzongkhag. “We’ve forwarded the complaint to officials in our departments in Thimphu.”

However, he said that people were not forced to join the cooperative.  He said the cooperative has 95 members, as of today. “We held several rounds of meetings to come to this conclusion on price control,” Dorji Wangchuk said.

The decision to prohibit poultry farmers from taking their products outside Tsirang was implemented to control the soaring price of poultry products, especially eggs, and do away with middlemen.

But farmers say the cooperative should do their business on the basis of price competition, and not impose rules that hamper their livelihood.

“We have no complaints if they sell at a lower price, but they can’t control the product of our hard work,” said another farmer, Tarabir Chowan of Dunglagaon. “Nor should they force people to become members.”

Tarabir Chowan said farmers could transport eggs to other dzongkhags only with the cooperative’s seal, but the cooperative denied requests for permits.  He said he approached the cooperative office thrice for a permit. “They insist that I sell my eggs to them.”

He said the cooperative buys a carton of eggs for Nu 1,600 and supplies it for Nu 1,670 to the Youth Business Cooperative based in Thimphu.

Another farmer from Kikhorthang, Mananda Rizal, said he was approaching higher authority as the existence of the cooperative had failed to control prices, and that they were forcing people to sell eggs to them.

Meanwhile, some middlemen have already provided chicks and feeds to farmers with an arrangement to deduct the cost from the eggs sold to them in return.

A middleman said he paid Nu 1,800 per carton to farmers, Nu 200 more per carton than what the cooperative pays.  He said they come to the farmer’s doorstep to collect the eggs, saving time and cost for the farmers.

“Members have to hire vehicles to transport eggs and chicken to Damphu, paying transportation charge. In fact, farmers get less than Nu 1,600 a carton,” he said.

A TPC official, Jumakanta, said sale of eggs to other dzongkhags from Tsirang had to be routed through the cooperative to make the business sustainable in the long run, besides controlling price.

By MB Subba