Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

With the potato export season already over, Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) is now taking the brunt of farmers hoarding potatoes, as it has to buy tonnes from them under the buy-back scheme.

Although the government’s buy-back scheme is helping farmers, FCBL is facing the daunting task of exporting potatoes with a currently unfavourable market situation. Potatoes from within India have hit the export destinations across the border from Bhutanese potatoes.

Between December 3 and December 20, a total of 2,274 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes, estimated worth Nu 39.5 million (M) arrived at the FCBL auction yard in Phuentsholing.

Of the total, FCBL has auctioned 1,085MT and the remaining 1,189MT are still at the auction yard. Most of them, about 26 truckloads, are outside on the roadside near the auction yard, waiting to get unloaded. Some trucks have waited for about a week to get into the yard and unload.

FCBL is still buying the produce from their centres across the country, and there are about 1,687MT of potatoes with the farmers in the field.

FCBL Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Naiten Wangchuk said this is the result of hoarding.   

“Otherwise, by this time, potato export should have ended,” he said. “The potato business is seasonal and farmers must never resort to hoarding.” 

Farmers hoarded it despite FCBL having sent field officers to different places across the country for timely collection and awareness.

Meanwhile, FCBL officials said markets across the border are flooded with potatoes from Punjab that are fresher and cheaper.

They said that parties across the border are offering Nu 1 per kg for small-sized seed potatoes. FCBL pays Nu 14 to Nu 17 to farmers under the buy-back scheme. FCBL has currently requested that farmers not bring these seed potatoes.

For big and medium-sized potatoes, FCBL pays Nu 21 and Nu 19 respectively.

FCBL is exploring markets. While Siliguri is one market, Nepal is also being explored.

In case the market doesn’t improve, FCBL is also assessing the local market scenario to explore possible distribution within. However, the potatoes have started showing signs of shrinking and sprouting, due to hoarding for a prolonged time.

Usually, potato export season ends by mid-December, the same time Indian potatoes hit their market.

At the right time of the season, potatoes are auctioned at average prices of Nu 20 to Nu 50 per kg, depending on the quality. Bhutanese private traders also participate in the potato business. However, they are not active at present because of market problems.

FCBL is stocking potatoes from Phobjikha at Nobding in Wangdue. The ones at the yard are from Paro, Haa, and Bumthang.