Lower prices & variety of imported vegetables challenge winter vegetable production self-sufficiency target

Winter vegetables will be exported if the production doubles

As part of the target to achieve vegetable production self-sufficiency and marketing in winter, the Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives (DAMC) is facilitating producers with major buyers and linkages. It is also providing market information to build up sustainable long-term market relations.

The six eastern dzongkhags of Trashigang, Mongar, Trashiyangtse, Lhuentse, Samdrup Jongkhar and Pemagatshel have been identified for mass production of onion, tomato and chilies during the winter season.

However, most of the farmers have been encouraged to produce vegetables in small scale for their own consumption since the farmers cannot compete with imported vegetables in terms of quality and price.

In the winter season, the immediate border areas produce plenty of vegetables, said a marketing official with the DAMC.  He added that imported vegetables flood the market during winter at cheaper prices and consumers prefer to buy imported vegetables only.

“But with the pandemic, imported vegetables are going to be lesser in amount and substituted,” he added.

According to the DAMC official, when imported vegetables are being sold at minimum price the local produces find it difficult to compete. Consumers still prefer imported vegetables due to cheaper price and the abundance and variety of imported vegetables.

However, DAMC does not render similar support to the farmers to produce winter vegetables due to the lack of competency and the willingness to offer local vegetables at prices at par with the imported ones, according to the official.

The national-level winter vegetable production data shows that around 3,142MT of vegetables are required monthly in the winter season. Projections for the months of October to March next year show that around 16,071MT of vegetables are needed for the country.

Among other vegetables, chilies, tomato and onion are given more priority this winter. The winter vegetable production analysis data of Department of Agriculture (DoA) shows that around 3,263MT of chilies, 651MT of tomato and 628MT of onion can be produced this winter season.

In the east, most of the institutions have a pre-contract with the local vegetable suppliers who consistently supply local vegetables and up to now about 65 farmers’ groups and institutions have clustered and signed agreements to purchase vegetables. “The farmers have to be motivated and educated to take-up commercial vegetable cultivation rather than practice subsistence farming.”

Officials have started with the assessment of vegetable production in various dzongkhags and found out that some dzongkhags in the low-lying areas are able to produce vegetables for winter to meet the domestic need. “We encourage farmers to market their produce within their own locality and dzongkhags,” said the DAMC official.

“The government aims to substitute the import of winter vegetables by growing more vegetables in the country but winter vegetables will be also exported, if the production doubles like summer production,” he stated.

According to the DAMC, around 6,568.82MT of agricultural produce worth Nu 225mn were exported to India and Bangladesh last month.

The biggest export occurred via Gelephu. Over 2,889 MT of vegetables including potatoes, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, beans, beetroot and radish cardamom, ginger and areca nut worth over Nu 106mn were exported. The major exports were spices such as cardamom and ginger.

Over 2,321 MT of potatoes and 44 MT of other agricultural produce worth Nu 77mn and 11mn respectively were exported via Phuentsholing. Only potato and ginger were exported via Samdrup Jongkhar during the period.

In terms of value, export via Gelephu increased consistently over time. The value of export between the first and the last months increased by 78%. On the other hand, export via Phuentsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar decreased consistently over time.

According to the DAMC official, the drastic decline of exports via Phuentsholing is attributed to issues related to plant quarantine certification of commodities such as potato, ginger, apple and areca nut bound for Indian markets.

Dagana during the winter season can produce cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, mustard, greens, beans, tomato, carrot, chili, brinjal, peas, radish, chayote, ginger, potato, onion, dry beans and moong dal.

“We have started with the assessment of winter vegetable production in Dagana and will continue in Wangdue,” said the official, adding that winter vegetables like cabbage, ginger, potato and cauliflower can be produced on large scale.

About 4,210MT of cabbage, 2,314MT of cauliflower, 2,036MT of beans and 1,938 MT of broccoli will be produced from October till March next year.

Vegetables like peas, leaf vegetable and spinach are low in production as farmers cannot maintain consistency in supply of these local vegetables in large quantities, according to the official.

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu