Farmers refuse to sell potatoes at the offered rates, suggest Govt. to stop imports and redistribute local potatoes 

Trade: Without takers, there are more than 500 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes in 66 truckloads waiting to be auctioned at the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL) auction yard in Phuentsholing.

Kuensel has learned that the farmers prevented their potatoes from being auctioned when traders quoted prices as low as Nu 50 for 100kg (a sack) of potatoes on December 13. The auction could not be continued yesterday.

The FCBL management has conducted several meetings with the Indian traders. In a meeting yesterday evening, FCBL convinced about 11 major traders to buy what is left at the auction yard.

Affected Bhutanese farmers will have to agree on the prices that will be offered today. If not convinced, other options will have to be explored.

FCBL CEO Karma Nidup said they have requested the traders to buy all the potatoes at the yard. “We have offered three categories of potatoes,” Karma Nidup said, adding that they are expecting all the produce to be purchased. “We will disclose the price today.”

FCBL officials also said that people think that the corporation has done nothing, explaining that it was the demonitisation process in India that has caused the problem. In this case, Indian farmers who usually buy from the traders did not have cash this year.

Potato seeds in cold storages in India also did not see any business due to the demonitisation process. Cold storages then offered to distribute stored seeds free of cost to these farmers.

Even as the money situation improved, farmers did not have enough cash to buy from traders who did business with Bhutan. Bhutanese farmers, on the other hand, hoarded their produce expecting better prices. Already affected by the demonitisation process, the market further worsened when cheaper Indian potatoes hit the market.

It is around this time that potato seeds begin arriving in the market. But larger sized potatoes from Chapcha, Bjachho, and Jabana that should have arrived earlier and have already been auctioned, are still arriving and adding to the stalled stock at the auction yard.

Potato production has also increased this year with approximately 2,000MT of extra arrivals compared to the usual amount. This has also over crowded the auction yard despite the availability of a private auction yard in Phuentsholing.

One of the major traders, NK Shah said farmers bringing their potatoes only now are causing problems for other farmers. NK Shah plans to take whatever is left after other traders have made their purchases.

However, NK Shah is not optimistic about the situation as he still has about 200MT of unsold potatoes. He claims he will endure a loss of about Nu 4.5 million (M) this season.

When demonitisation occurred, there were 260 truckloads of potatoes at the auction yard in Phuentsholing. While FCBL announced that farmers not bring anymore potatoes, more than 200 truckloads arrived. At the moment there are 66 new truckloads of potatoes waiting to be auctioned.

While FCBL is attempting to convince Indian traders to lift the remaining potatoes, farmers are also expecting a good deal.

Kuensel met with a group of farmers yesterday. They said they decided not to auction their potatoes when the price fell to Nu 50 per 100kg. “We have worked so hard, the government should find a better way,” a potato farmer, Dophu, said. “Otherwise, it is not very encouraging to continue farming.”

Farmers also suggest that whatever potatoes are left at the yard could be easily disposed of if the government stopped importing potatoes and instead distributed the potatoes at the yard to all the dzongkhags. The government could also buy the seeds and distribute to farmers on subsidised rates or free of cost, they suggested.

Meanwhile, auction prices dropped drastically as potatoes have also deteriorated in quality.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing