Cardamom – The Government Is On The Path Of Peril: II – YESHEY DORJ

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I am appalled at the naivety of the DNT government, particularly in the case of the ongoing Cardamom imbroglio – and yet, this is a government after my own heart. I can see that they are trying their best. And, above all, they mean well. And if they have taken a tumble or two, I have no problem with that – give them a year or two – they should perform. Mistakes are a part of the learning process – doubtless even God has made mistakes.

But in this ongoing Cardamom issue, I worry that the government is clueless as to what they are getting into. They simply have no idea! It is apparent that the government thinks they are doing the Cardamom growers a favor (note: I have been using the term “grower” and not “farmer”). Thus I am devoting time and effort towards making an attempt to enlighten the government of the pitfalls on their chosen path. Let me recount a small part of history here – so that they become aware.

The FCB and the JPLCP of the 80’s era were the biggest dealers and traders of Bhutanese Cardamom. They handled thousands of tons of Cardamom for many years.

I as the Head of the export section of the Export Division should qualify as the 3rd largest handler of Bhutan’s Cardamom – during the early 80’s. But my engagement was strictly in what used to be known as the “Third Country Market” – market beyond India. Drawing from my experience, let me reveal the following – I will do it in point form so that this post does not become too long:

1.  The FCB, the Export Division and the JPLCP were the three big players in this trade

2.  There was a strong nexus between the FCB, JPLCP and an agent in Delhi

3.  At one point the FCB refused to release their stock of cardamom to us for export – although we were offering them much higher price than their Delhi Agent. I was infuriated! I reasoned and pleaded that Bhutan’s reputation in the international market was at stake. They stood their ground. They pretended that they did not have the stock. I knew that they had the stock. With no other choice left, I launched a covert investigation into the affairs of the FCB. As I knew already, I discovered that they not only had the stock that would meet our export commitment – it turns out that the FCB had a physical stock shortfall of 13 MT of Cardamom. Emboldened by this discovery, I threatened the MD of the FCB – that if he did not cooperate with me, I would report the matter to the Royal Audit Authority. The MD buckled and gave me the stock of Cardamom and we were able to fulfill our export commitment for which 100% payment in the form of a Letter of Credit was firmly in our pocket.

4.  Much later I discovered that the shortfall at the FCB was not entirely due to foul play by the officials there – they had been DUPED by the Cardamom growers/traders. The growers/traders had bagged the cardamoms in hessian bags — and put hot water into the dry cardamom. The dried Cardamom soaked up the moisture thereby increasing the weight of the Cardamom, temporarily. So the FCB was paying for about 10 -15 KGs of hot water, for every bag of Cardamom they bought. Over time the moisture would evaporate resulting in the shortage that I had stumbled on.

5. One year in the 80’s Bhutan emerged as the biggest exporter of Brown Jacket Cardamom – something that is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE. India, Nepal and Sikkim grew 50 times more than we did. But our export figures corroborated the fact.  We had exported more than double our annual production. That left me puzzled and intrigued – how is it possible? – until I discovered the truth much later. But this truth I am still not telling.

6.  During one of our export shipments consisting of two 20’ containers, upon arrival at the port of discharge, it was discovered, during the process of de-stuffing the containers, that the Cardamoms were infested with fungal growth. I rushed to Singapore to investigate. I found, to my utter consternation, that the Cardamom bags contained an inner lining of clear plastic. I realized that the growers/suppliers had put hot water and tied the clear plastic bags tight – so that the moisture would be trapped. This kept the weight high – but caused fungal growth. The Export Division had to compensate – and in the process we lost over Nu.800,000.00. That was a lot of money those days … and resulted in a Audit Memo against me. I responded to the Audit Memo with uncharacteristic defiance since I had done no wrong. The Finance Minister and the Audit Authorities were furious with my reply and wanted me sacked. They could not – since I was not directly involved in the purchase and storage of the Cardamom – only in its export and export price negotiation.

So, tell me, do you believe that the Cardamom growers would have evolved into more ethical persons in recent years? One last question: How would the FCB determine that they are actually buying the grower’s stock? How would they determine that the stock is from 2018?

Is it likely that we will, yet again discover as we did in the early 80’s, that Bhutan is the biggest grower or Brown Jacket Cardamom – this time courtesy of the DNT government?

NOTE FOR FCB:

The FCB might want to remember this: If the stock that you purchase now remains unsold for a considerable duration of time, there will be loss of moisture resulting in loss of weight. But spontaneous loss of moisture is a good thing – but how are you going to offset the loss arising from loss of moisture? You cannot hope to make good the loss through higher price – since the growers have already tried and they have failed. That is why they are pressurizing the government to buy their stock.

You might also want to check if there is fungal growth with the stock you already have in your godown. You might also want to make sure that you can identify which stock is bought from which grower — just in case. Trust me the road to hell is paved with good intentions!The writer is an ardent blogger and the Charter Member of the Rotary Club of Thimphu

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