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Vegetable production on the up

As a result, exports have risen; so too have imports, mainly due to more expat workers

Agriculture: Vegetable production in the country gradually increased after the country faced Rupee shortage in 2012.

Between 2008 and 2012, total vegetable production saw an increase of 13 percent.  In 2013, the country produced 46,468 metric tonnes of vegetables.  Production is expected to increase by more than 2,000 metric tonnes  in 2014.

Namgay Thinley, programme coordinator with the National Vegetable Programme, said that if vegetable production increases as expected, the country  will see a 13 percent production growth in the first two years of the 11th Plan.

After agriculture sector started the commercialisation programme, export of vegetables also increased.

Bhutan exported 3,710 metric tonnes  of vegetables last year, which is worth about Nu 87M (million).  This was the highest export volume since 2008.  In 2012 and 2013, the country exported 2,822 metric tonnes  and 2,088 metric tonnes  respectively.  Between 2011 and 2014, the total export volume increased by more than 300 percent.

However, the import of vegetables did not decrease, even when the production in the country increased, which can be attributed to rise in the number of Indian expatriate workers in the country, said Namgay Thinley.

The other reason is that Bhutan does not produce enough vegetables during winter.  Thus, the country exports vegetables only in summer months. “Our target is to reduce vegetable import,” said Namgay Thinley.

Price is another factor.  Rinzin Wangchuk, Paro’s dzongkhag agriculture officer (DAO), said that when it came to price, it was difficult to compete with India because the cost of production in India is low. “So Bhutan should target to produce off-season vegetables that can be exported to India.”

One of the recommendations at the workshop for DAOs and horticulture experts was to initiate agro-ecological zonation of all chiwogs and gewogs for year-round commercial vegetable production, to ensure continuous supply of vegetables in the country, and to reduce dependence on imported vegetables.

Bhutan has diverse agro-ecological zones and can produce vegetables all year round.  But we must know what kind of vegetables will grow in specific zones, said Namgay Thinley. Currently, the country has just two vegetable producing zones – north and south.  North zone grows vegetables in summer, and south zone in winter.

There are months between summer and winter when the country can grow vegetables.  There is a need to fill that gap, said Namagy Thinley.

To avoid wastage of available resources, focused area commercial production will be adopted.  Most of the farmers in the country grow vegetables in small plots.  Agriculture department provides support by distributing seeds, pipes, and sprinklers, among others.  But when it comes to work, farmers work in small plots and that are not viable for large-scale production.

“We’ll focus only on areas that can produce vegetables in large scale and to those farmers who are interested in commercial production,” said Namgay Thinley

Subsidy on production inputs like free supply of seeds, irrigation facilities and cost-sharing scheme for greenhouses will be continued for a few years and be withdrawn phase wise.

For example, if a farmer who is interested in commercial vegetable production needs 100 packets of seeds, 50 will be given free.  The next year, 25 packets of seed will be given free and 75 packets will be sold.

The recommendations will be implemented from 2016.

To boost vegetable production in winter, the department of agricultural marketing & cooperatives (DAMC) will provide minimum support price (MSP) services to vegetable growers.

“When we ask the farmers to grow vegetable on a large scale, they’re hesitant because of limited market,” said Namgay Thinley.  For instance, if the cost of production of a kilogram of cabbage is Nu 10 and farmers are able to fetch only Nu 5 from the market, DAMC will pay the difference to the farmer, so that the farmers do not suffer loss.

By Dechen Tshomo

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