Chhimi Dema 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) and the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) assured food security in the country if the lockdown extends beyond 72 hours.

MoAF’s Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) assessed the farm produce requirements in the country during the winter months and estimated that 2,300 to 2,400 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables have to be imported based on the produce in stock and the per capita requirement.

Sanam Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that the ministry is prepared to supply food if the lockdown extends. “The standard operating procedures are in place and we are prepared. Food security will be ensured.”

DAMC’s director Kinlay Tshering said they will facilitate wholesalers to import the required quantity of vegetables.

The MoAF issued a notification on January 7 to allow the FCBL to import chilies as a measure to ensure availability, stabilise price, and curb illegal import.

The FCBL will import a total of 300 to 350 MT of chilies in a month.

Kinlay Tshering said that vegetable production in the winter and attaining 100 percent self-sufficiency in vegetables is a challenge because of the climatic factors, but the efforts of the farmers should be appreciated.

She said they would capitalise where there is potential to produce more. “Where we don’t have the opportunity to increase production, we continue to have good faith with our neighbouring countries.”

Three officials from the DAMC, vegetable vendor representatives, and CFM management are in the CFM to supply the in-stock produces to critical markets like the quarantine facilities and ensure that produce is not wasted.

FCBL’s chief executive officer (CEO), Naiten Wangchuk, said that there are food stocks sufficient for a month.

The FCBL have 2,743 MT of rice, 254 MT of oil, and 1,041 MT of pulses, which last for about a month in stock.

It also has salt, sugar, flour, and other essential items recognised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs in stock.

Naiten Wangchuk said so long the Indian border remains open, the essential items can be imported.

“If the FCBL keeps a huge stock of food for a longer duration, it will be a challenge to sell it when the situation normalises,” he said. “The FCBL is keeping minimum stock to ensure that the imported food is consumed.”

He said they are prioritising dzongkhags that have had Covid-19 outbreaks. “It is difficult to find warehouses in the dzongkhags to store the food. We use private warehouses and government institutions that do not have the standard technical requirements of storing the food.”

The FCBL has constructed a warehouse in Samdrupjongkhar, and construction is ongoing in Gelephu. Construction of four warehouses is planned, but they could not be built because of shortage of labour.

Naiten Wangchuk said that the FCBL hopes to build a national food security reserve warehouse and the government to prioritise it.