Potato is one of the most important crops in Bhutan. Its impact in improving the lives of rural population and enhancing their socioeconomic well-being has been dramatic and well documented.
Given the importance of this versatile economic crop to our farmers, it is a pity to see our farmers troubled by logistical arrangements that could have been foreseen and prevented. Our farmers are engaged throughout the year cultivating crops and guarding them from wildlife. They are already at the mercy of changing weather and emerging crop diseases. More often than not, they end up tolerating and complaining on the lack of irrigation facilities.
After going through all these processes of what our policy makers call farming, our farmers bring their produce to auction yards in the border towns with hopes that the crops would fetch a good income. They may not have anticipated the lack of storage space at the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard and the troubles that they had to go through to again guard their harvest.
But the FCBL should have. As an organisation that has been facilitating the auctioning of cash crops since 1980, it should have prepared better since Phuentsholing receives almost 80 percent of the total quantity auctioned. Farmers appreciate the services the FCBL provides in connecting them to a pool of traders, ensuring transparency and assuring payments.
It could do more than merely lament about how the space that used to serve as a truck park is now a construction site. It is given that enhanced road access to communities has boosted potato production in the country. Encouraging farmers to boost production without a well-established storage and marketing system does not help the farmers or the country. We are alreadywitnessing a drop in price given the massive supply of potatoes. The last link is the most crucial in a production cycle and going by what’s happening in Phuentsholing, we seem to have neglected this important process. Blaming the annual festive season across the border is just another low.
While we understand that FCBL is making efforts, even with excuses, to address the issues farmers are facing, there is a need for our policy makers to comprehend the problems that plague our farmers in the market and not just in the fields. We have missed the marketing aspect of crops when advocating farmers to grow on a commercial scale. The lack of space and other storage arrangements in border towns should be given priority. Phuentsholing, as the country’s biggest commercial hub, needs infrastructure and facilities to enhance, not obstruct trade.
RNR reports state that potato growers are engaged throughout the production cycle – from arranging farm inputs to post harvest handling and marketing. Potato cultivation engages a large portion of our farmers in the east and central Bhutan and, going by the export figures, Bhutanese potatoes still enjoy good market in India.
While we have done fairly well in connecting producers to the domestic market such as institutions and hotels, we call on policy makers to endorse a marketing policy for agricultural products. Lack of policy guidance weakens coordination and affects efficiency. We are seeing this unfold in Phuentsholing today.