Choki Wangmo

To ease agriculture products marketing and keep vegetable prices competitive in urban areas Vegetable on Wheels (VoW) was launched yesterday.

VoW is part of fair price initiative by a few entrepreneurs, which aims to bring price stability in the market.

An advisor of the initiative, Leki Dawa, said that while buyers complained about hiked prices, farmers did not have a market for their products in rural areas.

“The farmers sell their produce at a reasonable price but the vegetable brokers increase the price unreasonably. We will fill in the gap through our service,” he said.

During the current pandemic, VoW would provide services in different parts of Thimphu for three months, creating an environment to maintain social distancing.

Daily, the delivery starts from 9am-6pm according to designated areas on each day. For instance, on Monday, delivery would be at Babesa, Debsi, Serbithang and Simtokha.

Chairman of fair price initiative, Sangay Nedup, said that vegetable prices are comparatively lower than the market price. A kilogramme of tomato costs Nu 35 while it is Nu 50 at the Centenary Farmers Market.

In the future, the founders of the initiative said that there are plans to extend VoW to other dzongkhags.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the pandemic had made Bhutanese rethink on the agriculture. He said the sector did not see much improvement in the past because the focus was on production and not the market.

“It was supply-driven, and most of the products in the rural areas were damaged due to lack of market access. Farmers could not earn.”

Lyonpo said that now importance should be on commercial farming and demand-driven, taking into account customer choice and services at a reasonable rate. “The initiative has multiple benefits to users and service providers and also gives employment opportunities to young people,” Lyonpo said.

Ten young dzongkhag coordinators are employed with VoW as of today. Leki Dawa said that it could employ up to 1,000 youths.

Dzongkhag coordinators will coordinate with the farmers and procure vegetables at a fair price and distribute in the dzongkhags.

The founders are seeking alternatives to make vegetable production stable during the off-season with greenhouses.

Those products unavailable locally would be imported. Leki Dawa said the coordinators would ensure availability of products in other dzongkhags. The focus, however, would be on local produce.

“For example, if we don’t get chillies in Thimphu and it is produced in Tashiyangtse, dzongkhag coordinators will procure and send to Thimphu. We want to create a market ecosystem,” he said.

Farmers can avail drying machines and cold storage facilities to reduce damage. The initiative was funded by Loden and UNDP with support from the agriculture ministry.