Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Every Sunday, the vegetable market comes to live at 3am. Sometimes, even at 1am.

It is a weekly fanfare for the farmers to earn their keep. Farmers from the farthest gewogs such as Tsirangtoed and Sergithang come and spend the nights in their pickup trucks for the big day.

A 58-year-old vendor from Kilkhorthang said that she harvests and pack her produce the night before, to be dispatched freshly in the market. “As we stay further away from the highway, we have to pay higher transportation cost. The charges have increased, too.”

She hires a cab and pays Nu 250 to get to the market.

As the head of the family, she manages the household expenditure from the income earned by selling vegetables and dairy products. “Harvest is affected by pest and diseases.  The weather is also not favourable for cultivation. I don’t have much to sell.”

Another vendor from Gosarling said that she starts from home by 3am. For an hour’s journey to the market, she, along with other vendors, either hires a Bolero pickup truck or cab. “It is challenging, but it is our livelihood.”

As early as 5am, without anyone to stay behind at home, some vendors are seen in the market with their sleeping children.

Majority of the vendors are elderly women. They are spread in small groups in the six vegetable sheds which remain closed on weekdays.

They use old weighing scales and are unfamiliar with mobile transactions.

“We need cash to buy essential items at home,” one said.

Some of them save a portion of their income.

By 7am, the business is in full swing with first customers picking the best harvest.

However, these farmers are small-scale producers. They bring fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that were rejected by wholesalers from Thimphu and other towns.

A Thimphu resident who recently visited Damphu, said that compared with farm produce in Thimphu, the vegetables were of poorer quality.

A vendor from Semjong, Tshejay, said that most of the wholesalers directly come to the farms and take the best to Thimphu.

For an organic capital, the lack of quality produce and access to local fruits, vegetables, and dairy products have frustrated the local residents.

Residents said that as most of the produce is taken to other dzongkhags with higher population density, it was unfair for the consumers in the dzongkhag.

By 11am, the vendors close their shops. Those who want dairy products should either place an order a few days ahead or come very early to the market.