Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse

Farmers’ groups in Kurtoe are striving to produce packaged local rice in the market to give customers not only a better choice but also to reduce import burden.

If you are in Lhuentse, a 5kg rice pack with a logo of Lhuentse Dzong is ubiquitous.

Thuenpay Kuenphen Markhu Detshen has sold about four and a half metric tonnes of red rice branded as ‘Lhuentse Rice’ since the group started production in 2019. The group has also sold about 200 litres of oil.

A kilogram of local rice is sold at Nu 85 and a litre of oil at Nu 160.

The group was initially formed for mustard oil production in 2010 with the table oil expeller machine support from the, which was later replaced with Viking Oil Expeller with a larger capacity. The project was with supported by CARLEP.

The oil production unit was initially started by 11 members and later dropped to three after others left for resettlement program. In 2019, the mustard oil production unit was clubbed with rice packaging unit.

The chairperson of said the group, Ugyen Rinzin, said the group could not raise production due to raw material scarcity; small quantity produced has been sold in the local area for consumption, to use for chainsaw to replace mobile oil and to use as additive in the pickle.

However, he said the group faces market issue with rice. Without a dedicated sales counter, the group sells rice by carrying in a bolero truck in Lhuentse and Mongar towns.

The members have cultivated mustard in a six-acre paddy field. They also collect paddy from farmers, mill and sell them.

“We’re planning to expand the production capacity with collection from others, but not many are willing to buy although we have fixed a reasonable price,” Ugyen Rinzin, said.

Another challenge the members face is the lack of proper road until the production unit.

Members said it is difficult to carry packaged rice to the road point and have to pay a carrying charge. They said they have requested the gewog several times to improve the road with soling at least but it hasn’t come through.

Kurtoe Gewog’s agriculture extension officer, Ugyen Wangchuk, said that the group initially started as a mustard oil production unit with funding support from Micro Initiative Fund (MIF) by 11 members who were mostly from economically backward and later diversified the products with rice.

He said the group is thriving to increase the products and the market is being explored.