Small-scale farmers suffer due to lack of market

Not undermining the pandemic, but the prolonged lockdown is neither helping the farmers nor the rural economy, says one of the farmers

The recent lockdown in many districts across the country has severely disrupted the agricultural sector, starving the buyers and markets as the restrictions have brought an abrupt halt on people’s movements.

And especially for the small-scale farmers across the country, they say there has been a sharp decline in takers for fruits and vegetables.

A farmer based in Gakiling gewog in Sarpang said he is clueless as to what to do with his vegetables like cauliflowers, beans and broccoli owing to the transportation problems amid the lockdown.

“We have no option, but to dump the produce,” he said.

He added that he had no problem prior to the lockdown because he supplied his veggies to nearby vendors, who then collected the produce from small-scale farmers like him and then processed them into large quantities before supplying them to nearby towns.

However, due to lockdown, the vendors are also now able to demand in small quantities; that too rarely.

The farmer said he was anticipating a good profit this year, but the lockdown has crippled their livelihood.

He said farmers are suffering huge losses as their produce like cauliflowers, beans and broccoli require timely sales.

Another farmer said in Sarpang, cabbages have no market and they are rotting.

Apart from the lack of market, a farmer from Chhukha said that the other challenge that the farmers are facing right now is the reduction in the prices, caused by the excessive quantities of vegetables in the market

He said as they produce perishable goods, they have been hit hard due to the lockdown.

“Though it was difficult at first, the government eventually began acquiring vegetables from the vendors for the quarantine centers and to supply to the nearby districts. However, small scale farmers have been affected severely by the mismatch between procurement and production,” he said.

One of the vegetable vendors in Sarpang, Nima Dorji Sherpa said, “Due to the lockdown, we need to seek an e-pass, which we don’t get right away. The registration for an e-pass can take up to three days sometimes.”

He added that they can supply enough vegetables for Thimphu and surrounding areas if the lockdown and mobility restrictions are lifted.

“Due to the lockdown, we are only permitted to supply to quarantine centers in Gelephu again, resulting in mismatch of procurement and production,” the vendor said.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, Nima Dorji Sherpa said he supplied only about five boleros of vegetables after getting a permit and that he usually supplies around 10 to 20 boleros of vegetables prior to the lockdown to the nearby districts.

In a notification issued on January 25, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) stated that an average of 74MT (Metric Tons) of agriculture produce have been sourced to Thimphu and from the total volume, 26% of agricultural produce were domestically sourced while the deficit was met through import.

While the government has established departments to assist farmers in selling directly to the customers, a lack of funds, transportation restrictions and networking have left a majority of farmers in lurch. 

However, a MoAF official indicated that they are already sourcing vegetables from all of the districts with the assistance of the respective agriculture extension officials from the districts, who help with the supply of the vegetables.  The official also requested the farmers facing problems to contact the nearby agricultural officer for any assistance during the time of the lockdown.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu