24 Irrigation projects included in 13th Five-Year Plan

MoAL and FCB strategizing to support potato farmers

Potato farmers in Bhutan faced significant financial challenges last year due to a sharp decline in potato prices. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL) in collaboration with the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) is now strategizing to support these farmers. This was revealed by the Agriculture Minister, Younten Phuntsho, during the question and answer hour in the ongoing parliamentary session.
The Minister further mentioned that MoAL and FCB are working to establish local auction yards and online auction platforms. Despite the presence of sufficient cold storages, farmers still bear the loss of this perishable food item mainly due to lack of timely information. The Minister pointed out that the factors affecting potato farmers include increased production but fewer buyers. Without timely information, farmers rush to auction yards upon hearing about favorable prices, only to find that prices have decreased by the time they arrive. Nonetheless, farmers have no option but to sell their perishable goods.
Kuenga, the Member of Parliament (MP) from Nyisho-Saephug constituency raised the pressing issue faced by farmers who rely heavily on potato farming for their livelihood. He highlighted that potato farming has been a significant export product for Bhutan over the past two decades. However, the recent consecutive decline in potato prices has severely impacted these farmers, especially those who depend solely on this crop for their income. The situation has become so dire that last year some farmers were unable to recover even the transportation costs to Phuentsholing.
Minister Younten Phuntsho responded by stating that “integrated facilities” have been established at various strategic locations to mitigate these issues. He informed the House that such facilities are set up in Phobjikha and Chumey, with plans to extend one in Khaling. Additionally, there are cold storages in Phuentsholing, Dagapela, Gelephu, and Thimphu, which can house tonnes of vegetables. Cold storage facilities in Tingtibi and Samtse are also under construction.
To address this urgent matter, MP Kuenga proposed two key measures to support potato growers. Firstly, he suggested establishing local auction centers in farming regions to reduce transportation costs and logistical burdens on farmers, ensuring they receive fair prices without the added expense and risk of transporting their goods to distant markets. Secondly, he proposed actively inviting and facilitating the participation of buyers and competitors from various countries and regions to create a more competitive market environment, thereby securing better prices for farmers’ produce.
The MP from Bongo-Chapcha constituency also raised concerns, noting that Chhukha District serves as a pivotal international gateway region, attracting individuals from nine districts for various business endeavors, particularly in the export and import sectors of agricultural products such as potatoes, oranges, and cardamom. However, the current scenario presents numerous challenges for traders.
During the period 2022-2023, farmers faced the challenge of selling potatoes at rates as low as Nu 300 per bag due to price fluctuations. Auction yard congestion impedes smooth trade operations, and high transportation costs add significant burdens to traders, affecting their profit margins. Despite the potential, there is a lack of accessible international market opportunities for these agricultural products.
In light of these challenges, the MP sought the government’s plans to address these pressing issues and facilitate smoother trade operations in the region in the 13th Five-Year Plan (FYP). The Minister responded that the ministry is looking for new spaces to avoid congestion and is exploring opportunities to facilitate potato business beyond Bhutan’s borders, particularly with Nepal and Bangladesh. He emphasized the need to explore bidders beyond nearby borders, reiterating that currently, potatoes are auctioned only at Phuentsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar.

By Sangay Rabten, Thimphu