Gelephu distillery, a potential market for maize growers

In an effort to link farmers with markets for locally grown maize, agriculture ministry’s Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) will facilitate supplying maize to the Bhutan Centennial Distillery (BCD) in Gelephu this winter, officials said.

The department’s regional agriculture marketing and cooperatives (RAMCO) director in Gelephu, Choney Dhendup said that a few truckloads of maize from Dagana would be supplied to the distillery on trial.

He said officials from RAMCO Gelephu and Dagana dzongkhag visited the distillery located at Samteling, Gelephu, to determine the demand for maize for possible supply by local maize growers.

“A high-level meeting between the dzongkhag administration and the distillery would convene soon to decide how to go about,” he said.

The RAMCO office will also arrange to link farmers from other dzongkhags with the distillery.

According to a DAMC report, the consumption capacity of maize for BCD is 70-80 metric tonne (MT) a day. The distillery uses broken rice and maize as raw materials to produce alcohol.

“As of now they (BCD) have never purchased maize from local growers and has been fully reliant on the supply from Bihar and West Bengal in India,” the report stated.

Dagana agriculture officer, Passang Tshering, said that the department’s objective is to make maize a priority crop.

He said farmers did not cultivate the crop on a large scale, as there was no market. “Most of them grow maize for animal feed and self-consumption in small quantities.”

Passang Tshering said that they would create awareness to farmers that if they grow surplus maize, there is a ready market.

Dagana dzongkhag alone produced 6,385MT of maize in 2015. Excluding Bumthang and Gasa, the 18 dzongkhags together produced 83,714MT that year.

Officials said that lack of links between the major consumers such as the distillery and farmers could be a reason why the distillery did not buy local maize. The distillery also needs good quality grains.

The report stated that the moisture content of maize grains must be below 14 percent for storage, and 10 – 11 percent for processing. “The higher the starch content, the better is the yield.”

Agriculture officials said that laboratory analysis of the different varieties of maize grown locally, conducted two months ago, showed starch content of more than 60 percent.

The BCD, according to officials, pointed out likely problems of high moisture content at the time of supply and suggested that local suppliers could learn from suppliers in Bihar and West Bengal on how to tackle such issues.

The distillery spends about Nu 390 million (M) to 400M annually on raw materials alone.

The management of the distillery shared to the team that the quality of the final brew could be improved because local grains are naturally grown and the water (60 percent component of whiskey) is clean and of high purity.

“There is also a preference for grain based whisky over molasses,” the report stated.

The BCD has two silos with a capacity of 750MT each. If silos are filled, they have stores for pro tempore storage.

The distillery receives maize supply from India between April and September. The current price offered by BCD is Nu 15 a kg and is not likely to increase anytime soon, the report stated. International prices of maize remained generally stable in July 2017 at around Nu 10.34 a kg.

The BCD makes payment in cash but they are open to other modalities of payment, officials said. “In future, they may consider contract farming wherein advances to farmers could be provided,” Choney Dhendup said.

Tshering Palden

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