With local vegetable prices soaring, a Thimphu resident can buy a kilogram (kg) of big green chili, a kg of mushroom, and a bundle of asparagus with Nu 1,000 at the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM).

Pasang, a public servant in Thimphu spends Nu 2,000 every week to buy fresh local vegetables to feed her family of five.  With soaring inflation, her purchase doesn’t even last a week.

Like Pasang, access to nutritious, varied fresh local vegetables has become a challenge to many urban residents.  The impact is greater on the low-and-middle-income families.

A kg of big green chilli cost Nu 700 at the CFM

When the big green chili from Tsirang was brought to the CFM, people paid Nu 900 a kg.  Even after three weeks, the price is Nu 700 a kg.

Soon, the much sought after Trashiyangtse chili will hit the market at Nu 750 a kg.  A single chili would cost around Nu 15.

However, in recent days, except for tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, imported vegetables are not easily found at the CFM.  Vendors said that due to increased production, they purchased local vegetables from wholesalers, but the exorbitant prices of vegetables are jeopardising the whole business.

In fear of running into losses, Karma Lhaden, a vendor, couldn’t take the risk of buying big green chili from Tsirang.  She said that a sack of chili that has about 24kg costs Nu 5,000. “It’s expensive. We don’t earn a profit of Nu 50.”

“It’s discounting the plastic we have to buy for packaging,” she added.

A kg of packaging plastic costs more than Nu 250.

A vendor from Paro, Phub Gyem said that customers were misinformed about the prices of the big green chili. She said that many demanded it be sold at Nu 350 as broadcast by the government. “I had a few arguments over chili prices with buyers. We had to negotiate.”

She said that, with high demand in the market, wholesalers, who were adamant about prices, had nothing to lose.

Vegetable vendors say the price hike was caused by the high prices charged by farmers at the source.  They also blame the high cost of transportation due to the Covid-19 situation forcing the price hike.

A customer said that it was easier to buy 25-kg rice instead of buying a kg of green chili.

Another said that rather than buying a kg of chili at Nu 700, she would rather buy a mathra kira that would last a few years.

But it is not only the prices of chili that are driving residents into poverty.  The prices of other local vegetables are comparatively higher.  The cheapest price of a kg of vegetables is Nu 30 at the CFM.

National Statistics Bureau in January reported that commodity prices rose significantly last year as the measures taken to contain Covid-19 had a major impact on food supplies in the country. “The month-on-month consumer price index in October 2020 increased by 0.31 percent with food prices increasing by 0.41 percent and non-food by 0.23 percent.”

To keep price hike under control, the Department of Agricultural Marketing Cooperatives shared the farm gate prices of vegetables through various modes of communication, including direct communication to the wholesalers, retailers and also to growers through the dzongkhag and gewog agricultural officers.

The Office of Consumer Protection has asked shopkeepers and vendors not to manipulate the prices of goods and asked consumers to report hiked prices to the department.  Customers have to submit a receipt of the purchase.

These measures by the government do not have much impact.

Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that global food prices rose in January this year for the eighth consecutive month, led by cereals, vegetable oils and sugar.

Experts warn that recent price spikes for food will hit the most vulnerable populations.

Choki Wangmo