Gewog officials attribute it to competition from across the border

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

Unlike the past two years where popular rice varieties like khamtay, champay and kalo bogh sold like hot cakes during the foothills festival in Gelephu, sales have dropped this year.

Chuzergang gewog’s Pangzur chiwog tshogpa, Leki Wangchuk, said the sale of rice has not been promising in the first two days of the festival. “We sold more than five metric tonnes of khamtay in two days last year making a little over Nu 0.5 million.”

khamtay rice

khamtay rice

By the second day, Chuzergang stall had sold about 600kg of khamtay, Champay and kalo bogh varieties. “We expect people to buy on the last day but I’m not sure if we could match last years’ sales this time,” he said.

The tshogpa said people who gathered for religious discourse in Gelephu last year bought the rice. “The crowd is lesser this time.”

Chuzergang gup, Sangay Tshering, said the contrary to what we had expected, the sales was not so good this time mainly because people across the border have started selling rice with same names. “There are varieties of rice with the name khamtay available across the border.”

He said people prefer buying imported rice, as price of the rice was comparatively lower across the border.

Many Bhutanese also visit the Thursday market in Dadgari, Assam, to buy rice.

“A kilo of local rice from Dadgari is about Nu 35, whereas the rice produced inside is more than Nu 70,” a resident said. “If not better, the taste is almost similar and the price is half of what we pay here.”

According to Leki Wangchuk, the sticky rice, known for its distinct taste and aroma, khamtoe is a popular rice variety among people in places like Thimphu and Tsirang. “We receive orders from these places often but it is disheartening to see our own people in the dzongkhag not opting the variety and supporting our farmers.”

He said that many do not know that Chuzergang produces the khamtay and champay varieties of rice, which is why the market has not yet picked up. “We have recently started growing these varieties and most of the farmers do not grow it in mass for commercial purpose.”

Gup Sangay Tshering said that although the number of farmers opting to grow the khamtay and champay varieties is increasing in the gewog, the lower production rate associated with these varieties still deter farmers from growing these varieties.

“Many say we charge higher price on the rice but they have not really considered the difference in quality and taste,” he said “I hope people would understand this difference and help promote local products and help our farmers.”

Meanwhile, restaurants selling local alcoholic beverage and native cuisines are doing a brisk business at the ongoing Foothills Festival.

Tika Maya and her group from Chudzom gewog made over Nu 100,000 by the end of the first day. “We use only local ingredients in all our menus, which is why people come here,” she said.

One of the popular drinks at the festival is tongba, a millet-based alcoholic beverage served in a bamboo vessel.

The festival concludes today.