Choki Wangmo 

The agriculture ministry has asked dzongkhags to grow onion and tomatoes as an immediate intervention to address the shortage in the country following India’s ban on exports.

On September 14, India prohibited exports of onion except for those cut, sliced and powdered as prices trebled in a month after excessive rainfall hit crops in southern states.  The ban is likely to worsen the shortage of onion in Bhutan.

Director of agriculture department, Kinlay Tshering said that with the provision of seeds, subsidies, and technical assistance, the ministry plans to expand the production of these vegetables in the next 2-3 years to meet the domestic demand.

Kinlay Tshering said that farmers did not cultivate onions since it involved some risks.

She said that onions take 7-8 months until harvest after which the imported onions gave a stiff price competition to local producers. “Farmers don’t have price assurance from the domestic market.”

The prices of onions and tomatoes in the country increased drastically after the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) resumed its import a week ago.

Although the ministry set fixed prices for onion and tomatoes, the prices hiked as high as Nu 150 a kilogram in Thimphu. The Office of Consumer Protection fined 21 vegetable sellers for charging more than the fixed retail prices for the products.

As of September 14, FCBL imported 144.79 metric tonnes of onion out of which 39 metric tonnes was distributed in Thimphu.

Some of the netizens said that Bhutan needs an agriculture policy that addresses more consolidated support and services at the ground level. The current institutions, according to them was not enough to help and support the farmers and growers.

“A focused commercial farming policy has to be set up in order to meet market demands, throughout the year, for all commodities,” one wrote.

While others think import regulation would help the farmers, some said that an enabling agricultural policy supported by fiscal and trade policy would incentivise the producers.

The government is working on attaining self-sufficiency in terms of chillies, tomatoes, and onions.

Meanwhile, the coordinator of urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu, BB Rai, said that in the next growing seasons, the farmers would focus on these commodities. “We are encouraging growers in the south to cultivate chillies, onions, and tomatoes immediately,” he said.