RNR marketing policy is being reviewed in the National Council 

Choki Wangmo

The government bought more than 65 metric tonnes of cardamom under the buy-back scheme, in the past three years as its price continued to plummet. 

But the buy-back price was set as the minimum price with minimum quality criteria and it dissatisfied farmers. As a result, people raised major concerns on the policy.

In a move to address challenges in marketing, Renewable Natural Resource Marketing policy was launched in 2018 to facilitate the transformation of current subsistence farming into commercial farming. However, there were problems impeding the operation and performance of the RNR sector in marketing the products.

During the presentation of the interim report on the policy review in National Council (NC) yesterday, the Chairperson of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee (NREC), Tashi Samdrup, said that there were no stable local markets for off-season vegetables, cereal crops like maize, buckwheat and cash crops like cabbage and ginger. There was no suitable export market for cardamom, apple, and orange.

According to the Bhutan Trade Statistics report from 2016 to 2018 the trend of imports and exports value for the RNR products was diverging with increased imports and decreased exports.

Due to problems in marketing the RNR products, farmers felt discouraged to take up commercial farming. About 53 percent of the agriculture landholding in the country was used for subsistence farming according to the RNR census last year.

Although farmers had options to sell their products to different organisations and agencies such as Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL), the growers had limited options to store during peak season due to absence of commercial storage facilities.

Lack of storage facilities increased post-harvest loss of products and decrease marketability.

There are 165 farm shops operated by FCBL across the country but according to the Committee’s findings about 90 percent of the population in the poorest dzongkhags of Dagana, Zhemgang and Pemagatsel said that there was a need to improve farm shops.

People in these dzongkhags suggested that the farm shops should be relocated nearby the road and sell farm input items, while the buy-back scheme needed review in price, fixed set price and prior information on the required quality of products.

The current RNR marketing information was found to lack comprehensive data collection and information dissemination. The mediums of agricultural marketing information were of less value to farmers and traders.

Meanwhile, FCBL as implementer faced low production volume and inconsistent supply, high price demand from farmers despite poor quality, high operational costs due to scattered production areas, poor post-harvest management by farmers and post-harvest loss, among others.

Highlighting the issues in their dzongkhags on the current marketing system on the local production, the members in the House suggested the Committee to carry out a case study on particular local products, carry out an impact assessment on the policy, resolve auction yard issues, and address human-wildlife conflict.

The member from Chukha, Sangay Dorji said that the conditions for roadside vendors need to be improved. He said that vendors faced difficulties due to improper facilities such as washrooms. “The vegetable sheds were insecure.”

The Committee would present an inclusive review report on the policy and will be presented to the House in the 25th session with appropriate recommendations for further discussion and submission to the government.

In the current plan, the RNR sector was allocated the budget of Nu 269 million for the value chain and enterprise development programme, about eight percent of the total RNR sector budget.