Farmers demand government action to combat illegal imports and middlemen exploitation

Neten Dorji

Samzang Gonphel Poultry Farm of Lungtenzampa in Trashigang was doing well. The farm owned 3,000 layer chickens and produced over 2,000 eggs daily.

However, the proprietor, Tenzin Wangda, had a complaint about the illegal import of eggs from India. He explained how poultry farms in the eastern dzongkhags are affecting the business.

“We want the government to strictly regulate the illegal import of eggs from Samdrupjongkhar,” Tenzin said.

Tenzin is not the only poultry farmer with grievances against the illegal import of eggs. Many farmers, especially those who have transitioned into entrepreneurship, complain that they do not receive a fair price for their products. Many also report difficulties in breaking even.

This issue of unfair pricing and illegal import of eggs is widespread in the agricultural sector. Poultry farmers are frustrated as local egg prices and demand continue to decline.

Another reason is that there is a great distance between the egg producer and the egg consumer, insiders say metaphorically. The product passes through multiple layers of middlemen who each add their mark-up, and by the time it reaches the consumer, the price has bloated.

Illegal imports of poultry products from India have severely impacted the domestic poultry industry, according to local farmers. Poultry farming is one of the few successes in the eastern dzongkhags, which have yet to attain self-sufficiency in chicken meat and egg.

“Middlemen entered the sector and spoilt everything. They are selling eggs with a profit margin of nearly 100 percent,”said Wangdi, another farmer from Yangner gewog.

According to him, it costs Nu 350 to Nu 370 per tray of eggs. A tray contains 30 eggs. “We are forced to sell them at Nu 300 to Nu 330 per tray.”

Nima Tshering of Tshewang Tobgay Poultry Farm alleges that feed agents, wholesalers, middlemen, and commercial vans are suspected to be involved in illegal imports in the eastern dzongkhags.

“The current production meets the dzongkhag’s egg demand, but locals still face problems selling our products,” said Nima Tshering. “They have been bringing eggs illegally from India because officials are not monitoring at the border.”

Many farmers echo this sentiment. Farmers in Trashigang are advocating for the government to ban middlemen in the poultry industry and implement stringent measures at the border gates to reduce illegal egg imports.

Poultry owners  blame the Bhutan Food and  Drug Authority (BFADA) and Department of Revenue and Customs for being indifferent to controlling eggs being illegally imported from India.

“Why are illegal eggs entering the markets if they are strictly checking vehicles?” questioned a poultry farmer.

He said wholesalers who import groceries and feed place eggs among other goods.

Phuntsho T. Namgay, owner of Kuenphen Poultry Farm in Pemagatshel, acknowledges that eggs are being smuggled in from border areas, with individuals taking risks in pursuit of higher profits.

“There are hurdles everywhere in the poultry business because of illegal import eggs,” said Phuntsho T. Namgay. “It is imperative for the authorities to monitor egg sources regularly, for transparency.”

He highlighted the deeply rooted issue of middlemen in the poultry sector, which continues to adversely affect the egg market. “Consumers are paying inflated prices for products, yet the proceeds are not reaching the farmers,” he lamented. “It’s vital for consumers to verify if eggs originate from local farms or are imported.”

Poultry farm owners are urging the government to establish a tracking system to monitor instances where middlemen transport eggs from Gelephu, cross into India, and then re-enter Bhutan via Samdrupjongkhar.

Dorji Drakpa, a poultry owner from Radhi, asserts that middlemen are smuggling illegal eggs under the guise of being sourced from Gelephu Poultry Farm and Samrang Poultry Farm in Samdrupjongkhar.

He elaborated that they procure 120-130 cartons from the farms and blend them with eggs from India before distributing them across eastern dzongkhags. “I believe it’s crucial to reintroduce egg sealing to curb illegality. If this trend persists, it will become increasingly challenging for poultry farms to thrive in the country,” said Dorji Drakpa.

“Bird flu is still present in various parts of India. It is important to assess the effect of diseased chickens entering Bhutan secretly. Even now and then, Indian eggs are entering Bhutan even though the price is Nu 7 per egg in India than in Bhutan,” said another farm owner.

An officer from BFADA acknowledged that despite efforts to seize and fine illegally imported eggs from India in areas like Kanglung, Trashigang, and Doksum during routine inspections, it is not feasible to completely halt all imports.

“If livestock officers submit the status of the poultry farms and how many eggs they produce daily, we can regulate the situation. If individual farms distribute beyond their capacity, they are only selling illegal eggs alongside local eggs,” he said.

He urged livestocks officers to cooperate to stop illegal eggs in the country.


Other factors

In Trashigang, many farmers are expressing frustration as they struggle to recoup their investments in poultry farming, emphasising the urgency of halting the influx of illegal eggs from India.

While the illegal import of eggs poses a significant threat to the poultry industry, farmers highlight numerous challenges that hinder their businesses. They lament that despite their efforts, middlemen siphon off most of the profits, leaving farmers with minimal returns for their products, while consumers bear the brunt of inflated prices.

Yeshi Dorji, an egg-producing farmer, illustrates the disparity: “Farmers sell their eggs for Rs 350 per crate, equivalent to 30 eggs, meaning farmers receive around Nu 10 per egg.”

However, the retail price stands at Nu 12 per egg.

Furthermore, farmers note that poultry feed producers frequently raise prices, citing escalating raw material costs. For instance, they raised the feed price by Nu 2,500 per bag in response to raw material price hikes.

Some farmers express dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to regulate the poultry business effectively, leading to entrepreneurs exiting the industry. Additionally, they attribute declining consumption to the economic recession.

Within a year, the price of poultry feed has surged by 20-25 percent to approximately Nu 2,500 per bag.