Choki Wangmo

With government subsidies, Dema, a farmer in Chukha, grows cabbage on her one-acre land. After four months, her harvest is ready for the market, just like her 50 neighbouring farmers.

The market is flooded with cabbages from other dzongkhags as well, leading to an excess supply and a drop in market prices. Dema finds herself dealing with loads of rotting cabbages in the field. Uncertain about the next season, she leaves her land fallow.

This is often the sad situation for commercial farmers in the country, lacking proper market linkages.

In an effort to reverse this trend, the Chukha dzongkhag administration has recently formed an aggregators’ group. Starting in August, in a five-month trial, 22 aggregators from 19 villages across 10 gewogs will connect with Aman Kora chain hotels to establish a swift market linkage between the hotels and the farmers.

Tshering Dorji from Dungna oversees the four aggregators’ group, who will take turns providing vegetables and dairy to hotels in Paro, Thimphu, and Punakha. By removing the use of ‘middlemen’ from the marketing system, he believes that the marketing of produce can be achieved at a reduced cost.

Middlemen were found to purchase selective produce from farmers at a low price and charge exorbitant amounts to wholesalers in Thimphu and other towns. For example, if a middleman buys a kilogram of cauliflower from farmers for Nu 40, they would sell it for Nu 100 in Thimphu. This has resulted in a drastic increase in market prices.

The aggregators aim to target retailers and help farmers adopt the concept of market-led production. If a food manufacturing farm demands ground apples, the farmers in ground-apple growing regions would be encouraged to meet the demand by growing ground apples.

“We can focus on locally produced goods and boost the local economy,” said the coordinator.

Covering a wide range of elevations, the aggregators claim that the dzongkhag has the potential to supply 70 to 80 percent of the market’s produce.

They are currently collecting data to determine the potential of each gewog in growing different types of crops and vegetables. For instance, Chungka is known for growing the best beans.

As part of their training, the aggregators update the crops on EpiCollect5, a mobile app for data collection, including pictorial evidence and GPS location. The aggregators received training with funding support from the World Food Programme.

Chukha Dzongkhag Economic Development and Marketing Officer, Sangay Thinley said that the focus was on producing onions and tomatoes. In 2021, the dzongkhag produced 11.35 metric tonnes of onion bulbs and 13.11 metric tonnes of tomatoes.

If successful, the Department of Agricultural Marketing Cooperatives will assist in certifying the aggregators and linking them with international markets for exporting local produce.

Tsendra Dorji, a mushroom farmer and aggregator from Babana, is confident. By the end of July, when his village harvests their produce, things will be different this time.