Druk Agro, born during the Covid 19 Pandemic flourishes

Everybody would have thrown success out of the window when someone opened up a new business entity, in the middle of a global pandemic, like the Covid 19 pandemic. The world had never seen and struggled with such a pandemic, which destroyed lives and disrupted livelihood. However, amidst this crisis, in the small suburb of Jemina, about 20-minute-drive from Thimphu, a food processing unit called Druk Agro was established in 2020. A bold venture, its objectives were clear: focus on making high-quality, well-packaged, and well-processed products. Contrary to apprehensions that the pandemic could kill the business, Druk Agro was a beacon of hope for many farmers who did not have markets to sell their products.

Owner of the Druk Agro, Sonam Yangchen said that the objective of establishing the unit was to reduce reliance on imported goods, create jobs, and gradually start exporting. Druk Argo’s “simple yet effective approach involved adding value to Bhutan’s agricultural products.” It wasn’t just about making and packaging things; it was also about helping farmers when they were struggling the most.

During the pandemic, many farmers in Bhutan didn’t know where to sell their crops. This uncertainty came when the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) discontinued its buyback policy in April 2022 after it suffered huge losses, mainly due to trade restrictions from India.

Druk Agro’s focus on supporting local agriculture gave these farmers a new sense of hope and a place to sell their products. Today, Druk Agro’s processing plant in Bjemina has grown immensely, handling over 20 different products, including quinoa, maize, fruits, nuts, chilies, rice, millets, buckwheat, and many more.

However, the journey wasn’t always easy. “Finding raw materials and convincing farmers to produce more, especially since some farmers were unaware of the unit, that lead to inconsistent supplies are the challenges,” Sonam Yangchen said. The owner recommended that related stakeholders should negotiate and encourage the farmers.

To address this issue, Druk Agro worked with the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC), extension officers, and local leaders to ensure steady flow of raw materials from places like Tashigang in the east and Samtse in the south.

Transportation can be a significant problem, especially in the summer when traveling from eastern Bhutan is difficult. But Druk Agro built a strong network of transporters within three years, who ensure that the supply chain is not disrupted.

Although meeting demand can be tough, Druk Agro’s team works around the clock to ensure there are no shortages.

After early hurdles, Druk Agro’s products started gaining popularity. At first, it was hard to find buyers, but as more people and retailers discovered their products, orders started rolling in. To meet modern market demands, Druk Agro chose to offer home delivery throughout Bhutan instead of setting up stores. This move proved to be a groundbreaker, especially during times when online shopping became more popular due to social distancing.

The company has thrived as a solo venture with no partners involved. They also have an outlet at Ramtokto along the highway to Thimphu proving their ongoing success.

Druk Agro supplies retailers, wholesalers, and individuals both inside and outside Bhutan. They work closely with the Bhutan Agricultural and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) and other stakeholders to ensure product safety, with all workers certified in food handling.

Looking ahead, Druk Agro plans to support farmers further by buying large quantities and working with stakeholders to start exporting their products to other countries.

With its resilience and clear vision, Druk Agro has helped change Bhutan’s agricultural scene and inspired farmers and businesses to see the potential in locally grown, high-quality products.

Today Druk Agro has dozens of employees, catering services to about eight dzongkhags and has plan to extend across the country in future.

By Sonam Lhamo, Thimphu