Choki Wangmo 

Days after easing the nationwide lockdown, Thimphu received its first load of onion and tomatoes on September 8.

The Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives (DAMC) distributed 8 metric tonnes (MT) of onions and 1.7 MT of tomatoes to wholesale vendors in the capital.

Twelve wholesale vendors at the Centenary Farmers’ Market bought the products who will then distribute it to retailers across various zones.  About 20 MT of onion and 3 MT of tomatoes are expected to reach Thimphu today.

The government has suspended the import of vegetables since the nationwide lockdown, therefore shortage of onion and tomatoes in the market across the country.

Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) imported the products from Samtse and Gelephu since Phuentsholing is in the red zone.

Unloading tomatoes and onions at the Gelephu auction yard

Unloading tomatoes and onions at the Gelephu auction yard

The products from Samtse are distributed in the western part of the country.  In the last few days, demand for 22 MT of onion and 4 MT of tomatoes are placed with the auction yard.

Gelephu FCBL auction yard supplies the products in the central part with its first consignment—3MT of tomatoes and 10 MT onion—delivered to Wangdue yesterday. The products are imported from Siliguri in India.

Procuring products from Samtse and Gelephu was, however, challenging, said the director of FCBL, Dorji Tashi. He said that there was a shortage of workforce in Samtse auction yard and the officials from Phuentsholing couldn’t travel to Samtse due to lockdown protocols.

Recently, FCBL has hired four extra labourers on top of two FCBL officials at the auction yard. “They are inexperienced and take time for transshipment and import therefore increasing the cost.”

According to the cost of transportation, handling losses, loading, and unloading, Dorji Tashi said that the price fluctuates although the supply from India was reliable and had no issues.

In the future, in collaboration with the dzongkhag, FCBL expects to import daily. Currently, the import is three times a week.

Chief Marketing Officer with DAMC, Yonten Jamtsho, said that the ministry was working on measures to import the products from Phuentsholing to reduce cost. “The ministry is not in position to determine and prescribe prices but it should be within the market price.”

Meanwhile, vegetable vendors are waiting for the highly-demanded products to reach them. Yesterday, the vegetable shops along Norzin Lam did not have a single tomato or onion for sale. It is yet to be distributed to them.

Owner of Bhutan Smart Shop, Sangay Ngedup, said that he placed an order for 2,000 kgs of onion and 1,000kgs of tomatoes but did not receive it yet.  Daily, the shop receives 20- 40 calls asking for onion and tomatoes. It is excluding inquiries on the shop’s social media pages and website.

The Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the ministry was promoting elevated production of all commodities except for the banned items. “While production is expected to increase for import substitution, import will continue till we are self-sufficient.”