Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
About 7.6 metric tonnes (MT) of ginger belonging to Samtse farmers are stored in Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard as the export from the dzongkhag has stopped more than a month ago.
Farmers say there could be 1,000MT of ginger stocks in the villages.
A ginger farmer from Pemaling gewog, Rakesh Rai said he has left four MT of ginger at FCBL auction yard in Samtse. Pemaling has about 250MT of ginger in stock.
He said unlike other gewogs that grow areca nuts, farmers in Pemaling depend on ginger sales for more than 70 percent of their annual income. “I heard officials in Chamarchi are not allowing our produce to go beyond the gate. FCBL cannot help.”
This year, Samtse farmers have also taken the effort to grade the ginger and could have fetched a better price.
A supplier, Neten Ghalley of United Tshongkhang in Gola Town, Tashichholing said farmers and suppliers have started grading the ginger after the awareness by the government and the local leaders.
“Farmers are bringing in ginger without any soil this year,” he said, adding that quality is better compared to previous years.
“But the export is not happening. I hear ginger is not listed on India’s import list.”
Although there is a bigger market in Siliguri, where traders from many parts of India participate, locals in Chamarchi want the export to be routed through them and not directly with the Siliguri parties, the suppliers said.
Ginger export from Phuentsholing is also currently stopped. Kuensel learned there are approximately 10MT of ginger at Phuentsholing FCBL auction yard.
The same old issue
Problems for exporting Bhutanese produce started after the introduction of the Indian Goods and Services Tax (IGST) in 2017. With the IGST implementation, customs offices in the border towns that link trade to Bhutan installed the computerised system called the ICEGATE.
The system asked for quarantine clearance and the Plant Quarantine Services of India did not issue the clearance for Bhutanese agriculture produce.
The clearance that Bhutan Agriculture and Food Authority provided was not recognised and export was disrupted.
Cardamom was the first that faced the brunt in July 2017, right after the IGST was introduced. The government later resolved the matter after raising the issue with India.
In October last year, potato export was stopped. However, it was solved and along with potato, areca nut, orange, apple and ginger were also sanctioned for export from Bhutan to India.
But only temporary sanctions were given. After the sanction time limit expired this year, the problem started and potato export was stopped again in Jaigaon. However, on June 28, India allowed import of potato from Bhutan until June 30, 2022.
Bhutan had submitted seven more products (chili, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, peas, and soybean) to the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO), India for import approval.
Today, approval for cabbage has become critical as tonnes of cabbages are waiting to be exported. If not exported on time, it will be the farmers who will be at the receiving end, as cabbages rot quickly. The case is the same with ginger and areca nuts.
Samtse is yet to export 103MT of areca nuts. It has been more than two months now.
A press release from the Embassy of India in Thimphu stated that the embassy organised a virtual bilateral trade meeting yesterday to facilitate Bhutan’s exports of key agricultural commodities to India.
The focus was inclusion of seven crops in the Plant Quarantine Order of India to enable their export to India.
The meeting also discussed exempting Bhutan from the minimum import price policy condition on areca nut, exempting import restriction on ginger, deployment of a new plant quarantine officer at the Land Customs Station at Jaigaon on the India-Bhutan border to facilitate exports of Bhutan’s agriculture products to India.
Representatives from the respective foreign ministries and agriculture ministries of Bhutan and India also participated in the meeting, where officials from Bhutan conveyed the concerns raised by farmers and traders who are facing hurdles in transitioning to the formal sector and requested to grant exemption to Bhutan for the current export season.
The press release said officials from India agreed to look into the requests favourably and expedite the approval process in view of the exceptionally close and friendly relations between India and Bhutan.
It stated India has been extending the fullest cooperation and support to Bhutan in terms of ensuring uninterrupted movement of commodities through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our close trade and economic ties are a reflection of the special bonds of trust and understanding between India and Bhutan that have existed over decades.”
Edited by Tashi Dema