Bhutanese potato farmers are affected

Export: Demonitisation in India in early November has hit Bhutanese potato growers, as Indian traders who bought potatoes from Bhutanese farmers at the auction yard in Phuentsholing are struggling to sell the produce.

There are more than 1,000 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes Indian traders have to sell from the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL) auction yard.

Without sufficient cash in hand, the traders have not been able to buy the produce. Going by the quantity of the potatoes that are brought to the yard, it appears as if many Bhutanese farmers had hoarded the produce expecting better prices.

FCBL had also announced twice through the media in November not to bring potatoes to the auction yard. However, farmers are still bringing the potatoes.

A potato farmer from Belangdra in Wangduephodrang, Namgay, said he and his wife had come to Phuentsholing on November 24.

“We were able to auction potatoes five days ago,” he said, adding that it took a lot of time to get their turn to unload and auction. “Potatoes were also damaged.”

As the potatoes were kept outside the auction yard, Namgay said they could not return home. They have been spending Nu 350 a day to stay in a hotel and the amount goes up when food bills are included.

Namgay and his wife were waiting for the payment at the auction yard yesterday.

Another farmer from Gangtey, Dawa Gyeltshen, has been waiting to unload his produce for the last five days. “It will take a week to auction after unloading the potatoes,” he said. “I am really worried.”

Kaka from Gangtey said that it was difficult to understand why Indian traders are not buying their produce. “Traders are not even coming to the auction yard,” the farmer said. “It is the sixth day today.”

Kaka said he has more potatoes back home and expects the concerned agencies do act. For now, the situation has left him a worried man.

After waiting for several days, Jouchu from Phobjikha decided not to auction his potatoes at the FCBL auction yard. He went to a private auction yard and auctioned the produce. He said he will have to wait for more than 15 days to get the payment. “I think the government must understand the problem. Potato is the only income generating cash crop for many of us.”

But with the onset of winter, the situation is worsening, as Indian potatoes are also hitting the market.

FCBL has asked its Indian dealers to compulsorily buy at least one go down of potatoes and the traders have agreed.

But with tonnes of unsold potatoes in the market, the business bears a risk to traders from across the border.

A trader from Jaigaon, Harendra Prasad, said he has 66MT of potatoes at the auction yard. “I paid Nu 33 per kilogram (kg) of potato while buying,” the businessman said. “I am selling between Nu 18 and Nu 25 now.”

Harendra Prasad explained he is giving credits to many third parties. “It could be difficult to get payment later.”

The Jaigaon businessman further said that this problem emerged following demonitisation of INR 500 and 1,000, and Indian potatoes hitting the market at a low rate, especially, the potato seeds.

Another trader, NK Shah, said he has 220MT of potatoes at the FCBL auction yard. The businessman even suggests FCBL to ban Indian potatoes entering the country for a few days so that the local produce can get sold.

More potatoes coming into the auction yard at present has also left FCBL officials anxious.

FCBL marketing advisor, Bhimraj Gurung, said the corporation has requested traders to buy at the moment. About 50MT to 60MT will be auctioned in a day. “But if it keeps coming then the price will go down,” he said.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing