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The plight of potato farmers

Every time our farmers take truckloads of potatoes to the auction yard, a problem arises. The problem of space constraint is not new to the farmers or the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCB) that facilitates the auction.

But with no measures being taken to address the problem, the auction season happens to be one of those events that reveal the inefficiencies of agencies involved.

Last year, it was at the Phuentsholing auction yard. Space constrains compelled farmers to stack bags of potatoes along the roadside. Hundreds of trucks  queued to unload the produce. Today, farmers are facing similar problems at the Samdrupjongkhar auction yard, but instead of waiting to auction off the produce, farmers are selling it directly to brokers across the border.

We see this problem of space every harvest season. We see nothing much being done every time or are told that some measures are being worked out. This was what the agriculture minister said when the issue was raised at the recent Parliament session on what the ministry was doing to prevent losses to farmers auctioning potatoes at the auction yards.

The agriculture ministry and the FCBL should be responsible for pushing farmers to skip the auction yard. With not much being done to ease auctioning process, farmers are beginning to abandon the auctioning system that was initially opened to facilitate interaction between potato growers and buyers and had assured market for the farmers. Should this practice continue we would have inaccurate records on the volume of potatoes produced and sold.

It was learnt that the online auction system under the commodity market initiative that was launched last September in Phuentsholing has not gone live in Samdrupjongkhar. The FCBL office there is now planning to make the auctioning process more organised by forming social media groups to inform farmers and buyers on the number of trucks waiting to unload the produce. This should have been done sooner.

Studies and record show that potato tops agriculture trade in terms of volume and is placed second after oranges in terms of value of export. Potato farming has shown huge socioeconomic impact on the lives of rural population in the country.

Despite its importance to the livelihood of farmers, we are still struggling to improve the post harvest process for the crop. Potato growers are involved from production to selling the produce. They grow the crop, hire transportation to ferry the produce to the market at the bordering towns and sell it at he auction yard or the brokers. As if guarding the potato fields for months from wild life is not enough, our farmers also had to guard the potato bags from rats while worrying of the crop rotting.

Bhutan grows potatoes more to export than to consume at home. But agencies that are responsible for facilitating its export are not doing enough. We see efforts being made to ease the environment of doing business for foreign companies but not for our farmers.

We are not doing much for the wellbeing of farmers, who are already among the least happy people in the country according to the GNH survey reports 2010 and 2015.

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