Chhimi Dema 

When production and productivity is Bhutan’s aim and will remain always, why is agriculture languishing in the sunless alleys of the scheme still?

If there is a new normal today, in agriculture sector specifically, it is excess production and rotting vegetables. But that’s not quite true. The real challenge is with marketing, rather the lack of it. Value addition is a foreign idea for many growers and marketers.

Kesang Choedon, the owner of Chuniding Food has solutions. Chuniding Food produces organic food products using value-adding technologies for preservation, dehydration, drying, packaging and branding.

Chuniding Food has around 150 products—10 primary and the rest are by-products. And there are buyers. The number is growing.

Like much else in life, it all begins with a dream. This is Kesang Choedon looking back on her long journey with food.

“Even as a child, I was interested in everything related to food,” said Kesang Choedon. “Food has always been more than just diet in my family. One could do so much with food by adding value.”

Kesang was with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) before she started Chuniding Food. “It took me about two years to decide what I was going to do.” As one of the first woman police officers in the country, she got to travel around the country on different assignments and got to know about different food cultures. She resigned from RBP in 2007.

Kesang shares that another factor that augmented her passion for food was her investigative journeys on foot to different parts of the country while working in RBP. “My investigative journeys led me to enhance my knowledge about food. So that was, maybe, killing two birds with one stone.”

Kesang started her food venture with Folk Heritage Restaurant in 2010. The restaurant was started to serve authentic Bhutanese food. The restaurant gradually became a hub for delegations and tourists who wanted to experience authentic Bhutanese food.

With regular supplies from local farmers, there were excess vegetables and grains. Then she thought about preservation and packaging.  That’s how Chuniding Food came to be. “I think when I first started making food products, people were not really interested. But then, it caught on.”

Kesang said that times have changed. Healthy food is now becoming the choice of the people, particularly among the urbanites. “I am trying my best in my small ways.”

With financial challenge in the forefront, starting the processing facility in Serbithang, Thimphu was a challenge too she said. “Questioning your own skills and the market, these are challenges you face.  You have to take it one at a time.”

Kesang said that the pandemic situation was the time for entrepreneurs to gear up and bring innovative ideas to replace the imports. “Where food is concerned, I think we have a tremendous opportunity.”

Kesang said that with proper packaging and labelling, local fruits and vegetables would always find market. “The food sector provides opportunities to substitute the huge amount of food imported in the country.”