Choki Wangmo 

Despite mounting worries about vegetable shortage amidst the second nationwide lockdown which began yesterday, the agriculture ministry officials said procurement measures were in place.

Director General of Department of Agricultural and Marketing Cooperatives (DAMC) Ugyen Penjore, said that the expected local vegetable production from the dzongkhags in the next month is 1,972 metric tonnes.

Most of the vegetables come from the seven southern dzongkhags.

Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang, Chukha, Samtse, and lower parts of Gasa will supply vegetables to Thimphu Thromde. “If other dzongkhags have excess produce it can supplement to meet the demand in Thimphu,” Ugyen Penjore said.

DAMC will facilitate and support wholesalers get vegetables from these dzongkhags.

Ugyen Penjore said that to meet the demand, the government was already permitting import of five vegetables from India. The import value, however, will depend on market demand and local production.

The five vegetables are potato, onion, tomato, pea, and carrots.

Once the lockdown is lifted, he said, the government would lift the ban on import of other vegetables except green chillies, cauliflower, and beans.

Since there were cases of exorbitant vegetable prices in the past months, the ministry is expected to determine a maximum retail price which the Office of Consumer Protection will monitor.

There are also plans to allow Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited and Farm Machinery Corporation Limited to import in case the private vendors hike prices.   

“For locally sourced vegetables, the cost of production will be used as a basis while for imported ones, the invoice price will be used as base price,” Ugyen Penjore said.

Without significant local production, the country depends on import of fruits and vegetables in winter.  Bhutan’s import in 2019 increased by Nu 144 million (M) compared to 2018. Meat, rice, dairy products, fruits and vegetables were among the major food items imported from India.

Bhutan imported Nu 308.75M and Nu 97.16M worth of fresh vegetables and fruits last year, states the Bhutan RNR Statistics 2019.

The identified shops in various zones are expected to open today in Thimphu.

Meanwhile, the mandarin export is expected to continue. He said that the ministry had established a coordination centre in Thimphu and placed officials at border towns such as Phuentsholing to help and facilitate export.

According to Ugyen Penjore, various Covid-19 task forces are also considering high priority to the export of agricultural produce since it is an important source of revenue and livelihood for the farmers.