The quality control group from the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) will visit Lingzhi and Soe gewogs in Thimphu to inspect the quality and availability of commodities in the farm shops.

This will be the first visit of FCBL officials in the highlands since it operated the shops beginning last year.

The decision came following gups from the highland gewogs of Lingzhi, Soe and Naro questioned the sustainability of the farm shops in the recent Thimphu Dzongkhag Tshogdu.

According to Lingzhi Gup, Wangdi, the farm shops established to provide farmers with market and access to retail basic food and essential items failed to live up to the objectives for six months.

“We cannot even get a kilogramme of milk powder when needed. The shop is empty,” he said. “FCBL so far has supplied commodities only thrice.”

Today, Lingzhi gewog has 89 households with an estimated population of 500.

The gup also mentioned that access to essential goods takes longer due to lack of farm roads in the gewog.

Another issue raised was FCBL delaying payment of porter pony charges to the  highlanders for the last two trips. This was raised in the previous tshogdu as well along with the issue of fluctuations in price of goods.

The resolution of the 5th tshogdu advised FCBL to provide gups with a commodity price list and directed the gewog administration to submit a list of required commodities to ease the supply.

“However, no solution  with regard to the payment delay was recommended” said the gup.

Soe Gup, Kencho Dorjee added that shop in his gewog ran out of daily necessities but has excess stock of toothpaste and toothbrush.

According to Soe mangmi, Tshering Dorji, the farm shop has eased their lives in the past, as villagers could buy all necessities like salt, rice and sugar.

“Civil servants working in the gewog or on official visit were also benefitted from the shop. However, the shortage of supply is affecting people without having easy access to market in the community.”

He requested the tshogdu to urge Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) to pay for porter pony charges at the earliest and FCBL to resume supply, considering the benefits the shop has on the highlanders.

The Soe gup said that the gewog usually remains cut off for weeks due to roadblocks during summer and faced challenges to stock rations.

“But having a shop in our gewog has conveniently reduced our challenges in the past months.”

Meanwhile, Naro Gup, Wangchuk has questioned the operation of shop in his gewog. He said that the shop space was constructed a year ago, but no concrete plan was heard from FCBL till date.

“The racks are damaged now,” he said.

Similar to other gewogs, the community without a store to buy basic commodities causes inconvenience to people when they run short of goods, the gup said.

“They cannot come to the nearest town each time they go short of essential items.”

Naro gewog is a three-day walk from Thimphu.

People normally come to the capital four times in a year for business and to shop essential goods.

FCBL’s representative to the tshogdu, Kuenzang Nima said that the supply of commodities to Lingzhi and Naro gewog was delayed for only three months. He attributed the delay to roadblocks.

“The agency’s employees who operate the shops in the gewogs did not call for the supply, claiming that the shop had enough stock,” he said. “While we were informed that business was not smooth, given the poor network facility, we couldn’t monitor from time to time.”

On the inflation, Kuenzang Nima explained that five to 10 percent charges were imposed to manage salary and additional allowances for their employees operating shops in the highlands.

As per agency’s price, a kilogramme of everyday salt is sold at Nu 12.65 in Lingzhi farm shop. It costs Nu 12.23 in Soe farm shop.

Despite the former government agreeing to pay salary for the shop operators and charges for porter pony when the DAMC signed a memorandum of understanding with Food Corporation, they later paid only porter pony charges, Kuenzang Nima said.

“Therefore, the Food Corporation has to manage on its own which is now resulting in huge loss of revenue.”

The FCBL operates the shops and DAMC pays porter pony charges as subsidy to the agency. A trip of supply accounts load for 70 horses and costs around Nu 300,000 in transportation charges.

According to Kuenzang Nima, receiving porter pony charges takes about three months since it has to be provided by DAMC, which requires sanction from Ministry of Finance.

DAMC in collaboration with FCBL has so far set up 173 farm shops as a project from 11th plan.

“Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) facility was installed in the farm shops to monitor sales and commodities availability in the regions facilitated with 3G and 4G connectivity,” Kuenzang Nima said.

The Food Corporation agreed to pay the charges to the highlanders within a week and supply items at the earliest at the recent tshogdu.

“Henceforth, the FCBL decided to pay porter pony charges to the highlanders and will receive reimbursement from DAMC later”, Kuenzang Nima said.

Chimi Dema