FCB: The agriculture ministry initiative of opening a Sanam Tshongkhang (farm shops) in the heart of the Rangjung town in Trashigang is not appreciated by the business community.

Objecting the move, 36 shopkeepers have put up a petition to the dzongkhag administration. They are objecting because the farm shops would also be selling essential commodities like rice, oil, sugar and soap among others.

The vendor-ship to operate the farm shop is currently given to the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB).

Rangjung town tshogpa, Jambay said that it would adversely affect their business, which already has not been running well. With one FCB wholesale outlet already existing near the town, he said the farm shop would severely eat into their business.

“Of the 36 shops, 28 are either grocery stores or retail shops. And most of the items at the farm shops are the ones we sell the most,” he said. “After the farm shop opened on July 9, we are seeing very less customers.”

On the other hand, officials from FCB said the farm shop should not be confused for a retail outlet. FCB regional manager, Pema Wangchuk said that the farm shop is entirely an initiative of the agriculture ministry and that they have been asked to operate it.

“It is not one of our outlets. Only the essential commodities listed by the gewog administration would be sold at retail prices from the shop,” he said. “And we are not required to procure any retail trade license for the farm shop.”

However, shopkeepers said that the prices of commodities from the farm shops are lesser even when FCB is selling at retail prices. The price difference ranges from Nu 1 to Nu 2, they claim.

“If this remains the case, some of us might have to close our shops because we won’t be able to compete with FCB,” a shopkeeper said. “It might do us some good if the farm shop could be shifted away from the town.”

The FCB regional manager said that they couldn’t find any houses in the gewogs and had to use the existing infrastructure at Rangjung. “It was the local leaders who said the farm shop would benefit more gewogs if it was set up at Rangjung,” he said.

Shongphu gup, Kinzang Wangdi said that the farm shop would immensely benefit not just the people of Shongphu but also cater to the villagers of six other gewogs.

“There are instances whereby shopkeepers sell 45Kg of rice claiming it to be 50 kg. Moreover, they also strike off the MRPs and top up on the prices of commodities,” he said.

Meanwhile, with the dzongkhag administration yet to respond, shopkeepers said they would be taking the matter to the department of trade soon.

By Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang