Prices of groceries and vegetables touch new heights

Panic buying being one of the reasons

Prices of vegetables and grocery items are soaring due to short supply and high demand in many areas in Thimphu even as a national lockdown is being observed.

Though many grocery stores receive their stock from wholesalers, they are yet to get supplies of commodities like wheat flour, pulses and dairy products, including cheese, butter and milk. The retail stores are however expecting that their supplies will be duly replenished in a day or two.

On the flip side, wholesale traders of fruits and vegetables complained that Desuups and other authorities’ phones are engaged all the time and they are not able to get supplies.

Business Bhutan on Friday visited grocery stores in various localities, including Olakha, Changjiji, Changzamtok, Langjophaka, Taba, upper Motithang and lower Motithang in Thimphu and found many daily use items out of shelves.

“Police and responsible authorities are making limited passes for vehicles bringing in goods. Thus wholesalers are asking us to arrange for vehicles and passes on our own. Due to this problem, for the last five days, we have not received any supply of wheat flour, pulses, refined oil and mustard oil,” said a wholesale dealer at Changzamtok.

Other retailers said there is also a shortage of noodles, biscuits, soap and juices. “We were left only with little amounts of salt and small biscuit packets. Hopefully, we will get new stock by the first week of the lockdown,” said a retail grocery store owner at Taba.

Meanwhile, prices of vegetables at many retailers continue to increase.

A 64-year-old said she saw retail grocery and vegetables’ prices sky-rocket in the past five days. “Nu 100 for a kilo of cabbage and Nu 120 for a kilo of potatoes is ridiculous,” she said, “We have seen prices of vegetable and grocery items triple within days.”

A wholesale dealer at Motithang said that many of their regular retailers were not allowed to take vehicles for shopping. We urge the police and Desuups to allow more vehicles and issue more passes.”

According to Thimphu Thromde, all shopkeepers and helpers who were tested on December 23 for COVID-19 have tested negative. All these shops can open immediately except those in the areas starting from India House, Hejo-Samtenling, Bebena and Dechenchholing and shopkeepers who were not tested. Shops are allowed to open from 9am-11am, 12noon-2pm and 3pm-5pm.

A Thromde official said that people stranded in Thimphu will be allowed to move out within two to three days after testing since Thimphu has been under lockdown for the past five days.

However, according to Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, people stranded in other Dzongkhags should wait for some more days. “Not all people will be allowed to move out, only those with genuine reasons will be given priority.

He added that vegetables will be available in Thimphu. “We are trying to bring varieties of vegetables from other Dzongkhags,” he said, adding that if the supply of vegetables is limited in the country, Bhutan will import.

Vehicles carrying vegetables and fruits have visited a few localities though.

The increase in prices has been attributed to extraordinarily high demand and pitiful supply especially of fresh agriculture produce within just a week, one retailer said.

She said this elevated demand has impacted the efficiency of a few vegetable chains in the market.

According to an agriculture official, they are working closely with fresh food suppliers to manage the impact of this increased demand, alongside the environmental impact of drought and erratic weather patterns in different parts of the country.

“We understand the pressures facing Thimphu households right now and remain focused on offering quality fresh food to the customers at competitive prices,” he said.

One of the retailers said at the moment panic buying is creating havoc in the demand and supply chain. “People are acting as if the world is going to end. Prices will normalize eventually.”

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu