Farmers have taken to the roadsides to store their produce

Space crunch at the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) auction yard has resulted in sacks of potatoes being stacked along the road near the yard and other places.

Farmers claim that left exposed to the sun, the potatoes are rotting and rats have started to nibble the produce. The farmers have also lost tarpaulin sheets they use to cover the produce.

To guard their produce, many Phobjikha farmers are staying up through the nights along the roadside. They cook and eat by the roadside to cut expenditure.

There are also more than 250 truckloads, including bolero pickups, still in queue to unload potatoes at the auction yard.

Calling it the worst marketing season, farmers claim that they have been waiting for weeks to auction their produce. “But we are now at the mercy of the buyers,” a farmer said.

Farmers have been facing problems auctioning off their produce since last month with buyers from across the border engaged in Diwali and other festivities. These days, with a large number of farmers trying to auction potatoes, the prices have been dropping.

As of yesterday, large sized potato was auctioned at Nu 22.75 a kilogram (kg), and a bag of potato is auctioned at about Nu 1,400. About a week ago, a bag fetched more than Nu 2,000.

A potato grower from Phobjikha, Norbu, said he waited for 19 days to get his produce auctioned. “I finally auctioned it today,” he said.

Other farmers from Phobjikha are busy segregating rotten potatoes.

A farmer, Tshering, said that the problem related to lack of space resulting in the delay of auction had never been this severe. “It looks like nobody cares,” he said. “It’s only the farmers who are at loss.”

He said FCBL officials had sacrificed their holidays to expedite the auction but it did not solve the problem. “Farmers who will bring their potatoes might have to wait for a month to auction.”

Tshering also said that labour charge to carry potatoes has increased. “It used to be Nu 5 a bag,” he said. “But it has now increased to Nu 8 and Nu 10 today.”

Another farmer, Wangchuk from Wangduephodrang said he waited for 16 days. “I brought about 216 bags of potatoes,” he said. “The price was doing good few days ago but it has gone down now.”

As farmers unload potatoes along the roadside and wait for their turns to auction, drivers are able to transport more, which has also led to crowding the auction yard.

Last month, traffic officials fined potato farmers who had parked their vehicles along the roadside. The problem was resolved after some farmers called and shared the problem with the agriculture minister.

Farmers say they have not reported to the agriculture ministry this time, as it was the lack of space in the auction yard that created the problem.

FCBL complex manager at the auction yard, Ugyen Penjor, told Kuensel that space is the main problem. “But it is also a sign of development in road connectivity across the country, as more people are bringing potatoes.”

FCBL had an empty space beside its auction yard that accommodated more than 100 trucks and bolero pick up trucks. A government housing construction started on that space and trucks loaded with potatoes couldn’t park anymore.

According to the complex manager, farmers bringing their harvest at the last moment expecting better prices add to the problem. Potato auction season starts in May.

As of yesterday, FCBL auctioned 14,249 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes worth Nu 387 million (M) this year. Until this period in 2016, the corporation was able to auction 15,597MT of potatoes worth Nu 209M.

Last year, at this time, potato growers faced a major problem due to demonitisation in India. Traders from across the border did not have cash at hand and Bhuta