The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) bought almost 18 metric tons (MT) of farm produce of worth Nu 214,000 in the last fiscal year, according to the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) annual report 2017-18.

Farmers sold the produce mainly through farm shops set up in gewogs. Maize was the main produce purchased under this scheme followed by pigeon pea and cabbage.

According to the report, facilitating the buy-back scheme is one of the three main functions of farm shops. A committee determines the buy-back prices annually.

The FCBL bought a total of 7.76MT of maize at the rate of Nu 12.25 per kilogramme. Farmers also sold 7.58MT of cabbage at the rate of 10 per kilogramme and 1.914MT of pigeon peas for Nu 20 a kilogramme.

The buy-back programme was introduced to provide an assured market for agricultural commodities in the rural areas where market access can be a challenge. However, the report states that the government encourages open market selling of produce and that farm shops are the last-ditch market avenue.

The report states that DAMC had a target of adding 52 new farm shops in the financial year 2017-18 to fulfill the 11th Plan target of establishing 205 farms in the country.

However, 14 farm shops were removed from the target during the mid-term review of 2017-2018 annual performance agreement based on submissions from local governments that the farm shops in their locations were not required.

Those areas were well catered to in terms of availability of essential food items and agricultural inputs have easy market access for agricultural commodities because of the presence of a vibrant private sector.

DAMC then established only 40 farm shops with a total investment of Nu 32 million (M). The department also equipped all farm shops with basic equipment such as deep freezers, display fridge, refrigerators, plastic crates, digital weighing scales, vacuum packing machines and other accessories worth Nu 23m.

The buy-back volumes are expected to increase if the government fulfills its promise to buy agriculture products from farmers at market price and provide subsidies to produce more and earn better.

The government has promised to procure farm produce from farmers at a price announced a year ahead. It has also promised to establish an effective food distribution system and support agriculture marketing.

MB Subba