The farmers were made to pay membership fees to join an initiative that promised to help them avail loans

Farmers in Tsirang are not happy with an initiative that encouraged them to form cooperatives and apply for membership. Once members, the initiative promised the farmers that it would help them acquire loans from the Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Ltd.

A total of 73 groups, composed of 407 farmers, became members of the initiative calling itself “agro-cooperatives”. All the groups applied for loans.

However, most of the farmers are not happy that they were each made to pay a fee of Nu 300 to obtain application forms. The initiative also did not provide them with receipts.

The issue was raised during agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji’s gewog visit to Tsirang on March 16.

A Mendrelgang farmer who formed a group and applied for the loan, Tshering Dema, said that when her group enquired why the Nu 300 was collected, they were told that it was to run the office and pay staff. The initiative was run out of the People’s Democratic Party office in Tsirang.

“We fail to understand why the amount was collected and why does the burden of staff payment fall on the farmers,” she said. “If it’s an application fee, Nu 300 is quite expensive.”

Another applicant Gatu said that it has been almost a year since they applied for the loan but they’re yet to receive any information on the status of their application.

The initiative was begun by a former civil servant residing in Dagana, Gopal Waiba Lama. He said that the initiative was started following the approval of the agriculture minister, to encourage farmers to form cooperatives.

The initiative was conceptualised following discussions with the agriculture department and cooperatives, as directed by the minister, he said. The initiative sought to help farmers go large scale so that the vegetable demand in the country can be met with local produce.

He added that the fees were collected to meet expenses incurred in getting the forms filled by unemployed youth and other expenses such as printing and photocopying.

It has been learnt that the collected amount was used to pay two volunteers who were involved in filling the application forms. The money was also used to pay electricity bills and the rent of the space.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, however, ensured that the collected amount will be returned to the farmers. “While we encourage farmers to avail REDCL loans, we didn’t give any directive to collect fees,” he said.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang