Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

While it is the peak vegetable production season for farmers and a chance to earn by selling vegetables at the auction yard in Phuentsholing, export to India via Jaigaon has come to an abrupt halt since July 6.

Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard in Phuentsholing wore a deserted look yesterday.

The vegetable aggregate (collection) centre at Damchu, Chukha, which the FCBL recently opened in its buy-back scheme initiative has also been suspended at present.

Farmers from Chukha, Paro, Thimphu and Haa are supposed to bring in their produce at the centre, from where the FCBL would transport to the Phuentsholing auction yard. This was an arrangement made because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, it is not yet known why the export via Jaigaon has been stopped. Sources said that it was the doing of some business parties across the border.

Due to the pandemic, the border gate has been closed since March 23 and many in Phuentsholing speculate that the people across the border had lost business without their primary customers, who are the Bhutanese. Many are even hinting that people across the border want the gates opened and that the pressure was building across the border.

Cabbages, potatoes, beetroot, beans, carrot, green peas, radishes are the vegetables that are currently harvested. Farmers from Chukha and Paro are expected to get hit the most since perishable vegetables mostly come from these dzongkhags at this time.

Due to the pandemic, FCBL had also started to export vegetables quite late this year, since June 18. Usually, export starts by early May.

FCBL’s director for the department of corporate services, Lhakpa Sherpa said farmers would be affected the most considering the perishable nature of the produce. Few farmers have already started to call and inquire.

“It will also affect the country’s economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, FCBL has put up the matter with the Covid-19 task force in Phuentsholing. It was learnt that the issue would be forwarded to the relevant ministry.

Most of the Bhutanese vegetables are traded in a regulated market platform in Siliguri, which was closed due to the pandemic but opened recently.

Owing to the pandemic, FCBL started an online farmers’ market system in collaboration with the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan in May this year. Later, the buy-back scheme was also initiated.

In this scheme, FCBL has fixed buy-back rates for 24 agricultural products.

Towards the end of June, FCBL sold cabbages below the fixed rates or the rates it paid to farmers under the buy-back scheme. FCBL purchased cabbages at Nu 19 per kg but traded as low as Nu 5.5.