While bidders complain of poor packaging 

It’s the season for farmers of eastern dzongkhags to bring potatoes to Samdrupjongkhar auction yard.

Hundreds of farmers bring their produce for sale but with prices for potatoes dropping farmers say new bidders should be encouraged to bid. While farmers are not happy with the price their potatoes fetch, bidders complain that poor packaging affects the price of Bhutanese potatoes.

An Indian bidder, Kadar Ali, said he has been into this business for more than 20 years and he always opt for Bhutanese potatoes as they are fresh, organic and tasty. “Most Indians buy potatoes from Bhutan even if the price is high.”

He said the potatoes fetch low price because of the availability of potatoes in West Bengal, India, but the poor packaging is also affecting the price of the potatoes. “Bhutanese farmers mix all size of potatoes.”

Kadar Ali said that they sell potatoes at Kumarikata and Nalbari, India, where most buyers don’t buy because of the poor packaging. “It would help if the farmers pack the potatoes according to their size instead of mixing everything together.”

The bidder also said that poor packaging affects their business as well since most of the bags tear while loading. “Since the potatoes were cultivated in the highlands, they rot fast in hot places because of the poor packaging.”

He claimed that he is doing the business in a loss since he buys the big and medium potatoes at Nu 15 to 17 and has to pay three percent to Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB), Nu 3.50 for labour and Nu 1.30 a kilogramme as carrying charge.

Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) manager, Namgay Wangchuk, said that they take time to segregate since the farmers pack all sizes of potatoes together. “In some cases, a bag weighs more than 70 to 80 kgs.”

He said that FCBL issues potato-packing bags at a minimal price of Nu 11 a bag, which is of good quality in standard package sizes of 50 to 55kgs. “It would help farmers if they pack the potatoes as per the bag issued by FCB and avoid over packing.”

Farmers, however, disagreed.

Gyelsthen, 46, from Gongthong in Trashigang, said that people who buy the potatoes from farmers bring the poorly packaged potatoes at the auction yard.

He said it is not the problem of poor packaging but rather the bidders knowing how to bid low. “Bhutanese bidders give more price than the Indians and we have been seeing the old bidders every year.”

Gyeltshen said that farmers in the east would benefit if FCBL could explore the market and invite new bidders.

FCBL’s Namgay Wangchuk agreed that it is the same bidders from India who buy potatoes from Bhutan. “It has become a trend now.” He said that they had guests from Megaland, India, who showed interest in Bhutanese potato business last week. “We always try to explore the market and invite new bidders but no one shows interest because of the distance and frequent strike along the Indian highways.”

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar