Chhimi Dema

Thimphu dzongkhag tshogdu recently decided to write to the agriculture ministry after gups from highland communities expressed concerns about the closure of sanam tshongkhangs (farm shops).

Gups said the farm shops benefitted the highlanders access essential food items.

DT members said they will write to the agriculture ministry through their Member of Parliament (MP).

However, the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) decided to close the 101 farms in the country by this month.

The farm shops were established in 2014 to provide buy-back facilities to the farmers and sell essential food items at affordable prices.

According to FCBL’s annual report 2021, FCBL incurred a loss of Nu 91.17 million (M) in the past three years.

“The operating expenses are significantly high compared to the revenue generated by the farm shops,” it stated.

In 2021, FCBL spent Nu 36.90M on farm shops and incurred Nu 27.09M loss. FCBL incurred Nu 28.46M loss in 2020, and Nu 35.62M loss in 2019.

A report from the company stated that although the farm shop operation benefitted rural residents, its poor financial returns over the past six years incurred a loss of Nu 134M.

“The recent review by an external expert also strongly recommended to close the farm shops that are not commercially viable,” it stated.

There are 119 operators in the farm shops, who were offered the option to take up the farm shop operation either on a franchise or in private retailing mode. Some shops had two operators.

The reports stated that 33 operators opted for franchise mode and two operators opted for private retailing.

The farm shop operators were provided with all entitled benefits and two months’ basic salary.

FCBL’s chief executive officer, Naiten Wangchuk, said that the corporation, agriculture ministry and other relevant agencies studied the operation of the farm shops several times.

He said that considering the shops’ benefits to the rural communities, they were kept in operation for the two years of the pandemic. “We are looking into other ways to provide this service to the rural communities.”