Phub Dem  | Haa

While other parts of the country are running short of tomatoes, Haa has enough local supplies that would last at least a month.

Unlike previous years, the dzongkhag saw a bountiful production with no market crisis amid the pandemic.

Kinley Bidha, 45 who has been growing tomato for years said that the pandemic helped in marketing the produce. The price has also doubled.

She said that a kilogramme of tomato usually fetches only around Nu 40, but this year it doubled.

“Vegetable vendors are willing to buy the tomato at Nu 80 without any hassle. The price increased from Nu 55 to Nu 80 this year,” she said.

Had it not been for the pandemic, tomato growers would be desperate exploring market and bargaining price, she said.

The nationwide lockdown hit during the peak of the harvest season and farmers sold their produce from their farms directly.

Haa Agriculture Officer (DAO), Karchung said that the dzongkhag administration identified a local agency who would collect the vegetables directly from the farmers and supply it in the market at an affordable price.

“If we do not facilitate the market ecosystem, the vendors hike the price,” he said.

Although Haa is located in the cold temperate zone with the growing season lasting up to six months, growing tomato has become a new agribusiness for the farmers.

Most farmers in the dzongkhag have been practising subsistence mountain farming. Commercial agribusinesses are often not sustainable due to rugged terrain, limited output, and high cost of labour.

Growing tomato in greenhouses was introduced in 2005 through the Wang Watershed project, the initiative scaled up in 2017.

The project is supported by the Haa Organic Farming Support Initiative (HOFSI) and the Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project (FSAPP).

The project supported the farmers with climate-resilient technology, which Karchung said helped farmers produce high value, nutritious, organic, and commercial tomatoes.

“Usually, production of tomatoes at a considerable scale is impossible due to the cold and monsoon rains, as it causes diseases.”

Today, tomato has become a prominent cash crop in Bjee, Katsho, Eusu and Samar Gewogs of Haa, engaging 91 farmers.

As of March this year, there were 188 greenhouses in Haa. The project distributed the greenhouses on a cost-sharing basis, where farmers bear 20 to 40 percent of the total cost, while the project pays the remaining.

As per the record with dzongkhag agriculture office, production increased drastically from 2018.

For instance, in 2018, 17 tomato growers from Eusu gewog alone sold about six metric tonnes of tomatoes. And last year, 11 new households engaged in growing tomato and the production tripled.

The vegetable growers’ group consisting of 35 households earned Nu 244,620 last year.

The dzongkhag administration is planning to increase the number of tomato growers and production for next year. Some challenges facing the farmers are in maintaining the quality of the produce, soil fertility and organic inputs.

Kinley Bidha said that going organic wasn’t feasible, since there was a shortage of organic pesticides and fertilisers.

Besides, farmers are sceptical about market competition from local and imported produce.

Another tomato grower Choden from Eusu gewog already sold about 600 kilogrammes of tomatoes.

She added that there was a need for a stable market chain to encourage farmers to take up commercial farming. “It is difficult to get the desired price after so much hard work, unlike this year,” she said.