The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened one of the oldest problems in the agriculture sector.
Many, including the ministry, took to the fields, as alternative employment, to once again push the country’s decades-long unsuccessful attempts to promote the food self-sufficiency goal.
As a result, there is an increasing surplus of fruits and vegetables.
However, marketing or access to market, among others, remains a major challenge for most growers today.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the current surplus produce is an apparent surplus because it could not be distributed throughout the country.
Lyonchhen said that during peak seasons there are pocket areas with a surplus. However, he said if the surplus were spread across the country, there wouldn’t be any surplus.
He said that if crops and vegetables can be grown based on the needs and if different quantities can be grown in different parts of the country, there would be no excess of production.
“Right now when we grow things, we grow it all together.”
For this, a committee in the agriculture ministry is currently studying the number of crops and vegetables grown across the country. Lyonchhen said the committee would then see how the products can be distributed.
Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjore said that there was a lack of information network in marketing agricultural products today. “We don’t know what is grown where and where our demands are.”
Lyonpo said that the ministry’s vegetable management team has developed an app similar to WeChat. “With this app, people can know what is grown where. Someone who is looking for some vegetables can place their orders using the app and the grower can directly dispatch the vegetables after receiving the order via the app.”
The minister said that in the absence of such information networking, people in Thimphu are unaware of what is grown in Samdrupjongkhar.
“Currently, the information we’ve is all about what is available in Falakatta. We’re also urging vegetable vendors to shift their focus from Falakatta to local producers,” he said.
“Such information networking can help consume vegetables within the country.”
Sharing a personal idea, Lyonchhen said that by increasing the vegetable consumption, the issue of limited market and surplus produce can be solved.
“If we all start eating more vegetables and cut on the meat and other imported products, the economic status of the country would also improve. There will be no marketing issues, we all would have a healthy body and at the same time curb our growing import.”
Lyonchhen said that the government has decided that instead of providing cold storage in all the dzongkhags, pilot facilities in two locations would be constructed with multiple chambers where moisture and temperature can be controlled for different products.
He said that a common criticism the governments so far have faced is on not having a long-term plan for the products grown in the country. For instance, he said that people complained of selling all potatoes during the potato season and importing it at a higher price during off-seasons.
In a study conducted by the government, Lyonchhen said that during peak season, a kilogramme of potato costs about Nu 25. When the potato is stored and sold after five months during the off-season, the cost per kg was almost double (around Nu 45).
“It is during this time that we import potatoes at about Nu 25. So people anyway buy the imported potatoes even if we have potatoes in our cold storages mainly because the imported ones are cheaper.”
The study found that apples fetched good price if kept in cold storage and sold during the off-seasons. However, keeping all the apples without exporting any would also be unwise, said the Prime Minister.
Lyonpo Yeshey Penjore said that to facilitate better marketing and to encourage people to take up agriculture, an integrated warehouse where value addition to local products would be carried out is being considered.