Bumthang Swiss Cheese provides ready market for dairy farmers 

Yangyel Lhaden

If there is an example of mutual-benefit cooperation, the Bumthang Swiss Cheese and farmers had been leading the way for at least  more than three decades.

The cheese manufacturing unit needs milk and the 25 or more farmers need the market. A family-run business now,  Bumthang Swiss Cheese, as the name suggests, specialises in making premium Swiss cheese varieties such as Gouda, Emmental, and soft cheese.

Bumthang Swiss Cheese was started in the 1980s through a partnership between Helvetas and the government

Every morning, Yoezer Lhamo’s eldest son drives around villages like those in Chokhor gewog to collect milk left on the roadside by farmers who rear livestock. Some of these farmers have been supplying milk to the factory for more than 30 years.

Bumthang Swiss Cheese was started in the 1980s through a partnership between Helvetas and the government. It was later privatised in 1991 and has since been operated as a family business by Yoezer Lhamo’s family.

Lamden, 57, from Chokhor, along with her family, has been supplying milk to Bumthang Swiss Cheese for the last 32 years. “We need not worry about the market. No matter how much milk we produce, the factory is always ready to buy it all.”

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the family did not struggle as the factory kept buying milk from them. “It encourages us to continue with livestock farming when we have a good consistent market. We value the  relationship with the proprietor of the factory,” Lamden said.

Ap Sangayla, 68, from Thangbi village, is happy with the arrangement – they milk the cows and leave the milk at the collection point. “What more could farmers ask for? Besides tending to our cows and milking them, there is no additional labour required.”

Bumthang Swiss Cheese lends money to the farmers to invest in their livestock. The cheese-processing machine has a capacity of  800 litres. Currently, the factory on an average gets a supply of about 600 litres of milk daily from farmers and the Brown Swiss Cattle Farm. Farmers are paid Nu 48 a litre.

“We need more milk,” Yoezer Lhamo said. “Our machines are worth millions, and without enough milk, we could incur losses.”

However, Yoezer Lhamo said that this year they secured the tender to get milk from the Brown Swiss Cattle farm, to ensure sufficient milk supply. “We require good quality milk to process premium cheese and the quality is good from the Brown Swiss Cattle farm.”

Yoezer Lhamo said that before the factory was privatised there was a scheme to provide livestock farmers incentives when they produce good quality milk based on fat-content  to encourage farmers to rear livestock with utmost care. 

Meanwhile, the cattle population in Bhutan is declining, with an increasing number of livestock farmers abandoning livestock farming. According to livestock statistics, in 2015, there were 302,744 heads of cattle, out of which Bumthang had 10,977. However, in 2022, the number decreased to 254,897 cattle, with Bumthang having 8,885 cattle.