Vegetable price rise needs intervention, urgently

Price rise, which came suddenly, has made vegetables unaffordable to most Bhutanese families, especially in Thimphu.

Shortage, which normally leads to price rise, doesn’t seem to be the problem. At least not yet. For example, potatoes keep coming, only for Nu 100 or more per kilogram this time.

A kilogram of jitsi ema (bird eye chilli) costs Nu 500.

Vendors say that the price rise is from the source. This cannot be denied entirely because, in the case of potatoes, most farmers took them to the auction yards last month. The ones in the market today are coming from the smart farmers who hoarded them for a better price.

Farmers are not to blame because it’s business—one would sell a thing for a higher price when the shortage is likely. The prevailing belief is that Bhutanese generally are not cut out for business but then farmers too had to face a fair share of trouble due to the pandemic.

Perhaps, after taking so much beating, it made Bhutanese farmers a little astute this time round because they knew there would be shortage because most of the Bhutanese potatoes had gone to India already. Hoarding, in that sense, was sensible, even laudable.

Absolute shortage would have had us in a very precarious situation.

But the real problem is that if there is no intervention from the organisations and agencies responsible, the price rise is going to shoot up the more and these vegetables will soon be beyond the reach of most Bhutanese families.

And, talking about intervention, the Office of Consumer Protection, the statutory agency under economic affairs ministry with the mandate to promote, protect and advance social and economic welfare of consumers, could do far better than just waiting for “formal” complaints from consumers.

It is incumbent on the office to protect the people from all manners of market exploitations from “unscrupulous traders, manufacturers, and service providers for quick profits.”

The irony is that we sell our potatoes to Indian merchants when they offer good price only to buy the same potatoes at a much higher price later.

At the heart of all this is lack of planning from the departments responsible under the agriculture ministry. Knowing that potato season is out, FCBL could have bought the crop from farmers to make it available in the market without unreasonable price rise.

That did not happen and so we are now paying through our nose.

The Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives has assured us that it will intervene and “look into ways of distribution and redistribution of [vegetables] to ensure availability and steady supply chain in the market.”

In these difficult and unpredictable times, glad tidings such as this, is welcome. But sooner it is done, the better.

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