The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) has started a new system known as “queuing” to help potato farmers across the country get better and timely deal.

In this system, farmers can contact FCBL representatives, provide details of their harvest, and wait for the right time to bring the produce at the auction yard, as the corporation would queue them accordingly.

FCBL chief executive officer (CEO), Naiten Wangchuk, said trading would not be a problem if farmers brought the produce on right time.

“We schedule their timing according to the storage and availability of our people,” he said.

FCBL team had also recently visited four dzongkhags and campaigned about the queuing system. The system is also applicable for both conventional auction and online auction. Queuing system is part of the online system.

Naiten Wangchuk said the farmers have to cooperate.“The discipline has to be there right from the farmers,” he said. “And we need to be transparent.”

He also said that people assume it was only FCBL’s responsibility.

FCBL officials said potatoes at the yard have substantially increased compared to 2017.

The figures provided by the corporation shows that 3,094.05 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes worth Nu 51.69 million (M) were auctioned this year starting May 3.

During the same time in 2017, FCBL had auctioned 1,406.02MT of potatoes worth Nu 17.79M.

A kilogram of big-sized potato is selling from Nu 19 to Nu 23 today. Medium ones are fetching Nu 15 to Nu 18 a kg and small-sized potatoes are sold at Nu seven to Nu 15.

At the auction yard in Phuentsholing yesterday, farmers were upbeat as the prices were lucrative.

A farmer at the yard, Phub Thinley, 42, from Paro said the queuing system was helpful. “Price this year is also very good.”

He claimed it is also because the quality of potatoes is good.

Phub Thinley had brought about 30 bags of potatoes and they were auctioned yesterday.

Better prices have also attracted farmers from as far as Trashigang.

Kinley, 28, from Trashigang said the rates were better in Phuentsholing as there were more traders from across the border. “There is more competition.”

He said there were just about five traders in Samdrupjongkhar and a lot of manipulation did not attract good rates.

Farmers pay Nu 160 a bag in transportation from Trashigang to Phuentsholing.

A farmer, Yeshey Wangdi said it is still profitable.

In October 2017, more than 200 truckloads of potatoes were stranded on roads near FCBL auction yard in Phuentsholing due to space crunch. Farmers had to suffer losses as potatoes rotted and they had to spend on logistics. Many farmers had camped on the roads to cut hotel and food costs.

However, FCBL has already started constructing a store and park infrastructure at a new location. At least 200 trucks would be accommodated at the parking space and 50 truckloads would be accommodated in the storage facility.

The existing auction yard is also being extended for more space, FCBL officials said.

Officials say they spent about Nu 3 million. “We are trying our best this year,” Naiten Wangchuk said.

Meanwhile, FCBL was able to auction about 1,147MT of potatoes from online auction system that started in September 2017. Two more grading machines have also been installed at the auction yard to boost online auction. There are three grading machines now.

However, the online auction has not started yet this year. According to FCBL officials, the online auction would start once potatoes with mature skin start coming at the yard.

“Online auction has fetched good prices,” Naiten Wangchuk said, adding India and Nepal are the only online markets.

He also said that online auction has a better future and that the corporation was trying to encourage farmers into it. “Bhutanese farmers have the advantage of quality.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing