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Agriculture ministry has adopted measures to help at least 30 percent of farmers sell their potatoes online this year.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji was responding to a question from Chumey-Ura MP Tshewang Jurmey yesterday at the National Assembly during the question hour.

The MP asked the minister what measures had been taken to ensure potato farmers do not suffer losses like in previous years.

“We have seen how farmers faced problems last year with storage and payments and potatoes germinating from their bags as farmers waited for the auction,” Tshewang Jurmey said.

The minister said that numerous measures are put in place to address the issues farmers faced. Online potato trading, which began in 2016, is being promoted and the system has helped the farmers fetch better price. “For this to work, farmers need to grade their produce properly,” he said.

One of the initiatives to promote online trading is buying the three potato grading machines worth Nu 14 million.

The minister said that the problem was not in selling. “The problem is all the potatoes reaching the auction yard at the same time,” he said, adding that the ministry has taken measures to address the problems of inadequate storage space.

He said that two weeks ago, officials from agriculture marketing and cooperatives and Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL) visited potato growing areas like Phobjikha, Bjena, Chapcha, Chumey, Ura, Tang, and discussed the issues and explained government’s plans to the farmers.

“The ministry is making space big enough for about 300 trucks near the Amochu with land leased from the Phuentsholing Thromde,” he said.

The ministry has taken over the cold storage facility in Phuentsholing from the private operator and would lease the space for the farmers’ use.

About 34,000 farmers grow potato in the country.

The minister said that 20,000MT of winter potato was produced from Samtse, Sarpang, Tsirang and Dagana.

The minister also responded to questions on power tiller distribution.

The Khamey-Lunana MP, Pema Dukpa, thanked the ministry for the two mini-tillers that were transported in the helicopter, but he said that the community needed a larger one. 

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that the government had received 1,200 power tillers in the 11th Plan, including the 744 from Japan. He said that if those sold by the private farm machine enterprises were included, the total power tillers in country would be more than 2,000.

“The power tillers were not bought with the internal revenue or loans but mostly from grants by the government of Japan and other international funding agencies through various projects,” the minister said. “I’d like to put on record our gratitude, on behalf of the farmers, for the generous support from the government and the people of Japan.”

Of the 1,200 power tillers, 956 were distributed to the gewogs as of June 20 and 59 will reach the gewogs by the end of the month, he said. “With that, we will have distributed 1,141 power tillers, more than what we expected to do.”

Some 80 tractors were bought, and 120 power tillers were distributed in central schools, youth agriculture and other groups. A big power tiller has been identified for Lunana gewog. 

Tshering Palden

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