Farmers in some cabbage-growing gewogs of Paro had to run from pillar to post when their produce began to rot last year, when the country was reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Eventually, the government came to their rescue, roping in the Food Corporation of Bhutan which subsequently suffered a huge loss with its buy-back scheme.
Similar instances recurred this year with the communities, mainly in the south, that could not market their cash crops.
The country is pumping hundreds of millions of ngultrums in fighting the pandemic which otherwise would have been put to good use in essential development activities such as building roads, schools and hospitals.
How long can the government go on with buy-back scheme? Is there no alternative? Cold storage, perhaps? These are the serious, urgent questions today.
With many farmers’ groups and growing number of commercial farmers, value-addition and investment in the supply chain now can reap huge dividends in not-so-distant future.
There are also those who are making the best out of the situation at the cost of many who are hapless. The ‘middlemen’ buy from farmers cheaply and sell them to vendors at higher prices. This is not a new trend but when many families are dependent solely on Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu for their daily sustenance, such obvious greed is too much.
There is some hope with the agriculture ministry enhancing the marketing links between producers and markets or large institutions. There is also a new online platform coming soon that expects to connect farmers to vendors and reduce the role of the middlemen if not do away with them altogether.
There are also small firms in the communities that try to do their bit to help the farmers. A local spice firm, for example, has been buying ginger from farmers at a reasonable price, helping them sell the produce before it becomes waste.
The farmers joined many other Bhutanese in contributing to the State’s efforts to help combat the impacts of the unrelenting virus. They responded remarkably when the country needed large quantities of farm produce after lockdowns across the border and within.
In the still living culture of giving, rice, vegetables and dairy products poured into the urban areas and front line workers for free.
Going by the trend of the pandemic in the region and elsewhere, the virus will not go away anytime soon. As the country’s Gross Domestic Product continues to take a severe beating, we will have only ourselves to rely on for our well-being.