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Potato exporters grapple with space crunch

The lack of proper storage facilities at Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) auction yard in Phuentsholing has left many farmers, who have come to sell their potatoes, dejected.

Every year farmers confront the problem of queuing up for days, even for weeks, until their produce get sold. And this is because of poor logistic arrangement provided by the FCBL to the tuber growers.

A farmer, Phub Dorji, said he has been waiting in queue for the last five days. “If I have to wait for another couple of days, I am afraid that I have to go home without a penny. If so, then my year-long effort will go in vain. But this is not a new hurdle for us and I am sure that the concerned authorities are aware of our plight,” he said.

Dawa Gyeltshen from Wangdue has been waiting for the last four days for his turn to come. He and a few of his friends stay in a hotel. “Sometimes, it so happens that we land up paying more than half of our income from the sale of our produce to the hoteliers,” he said.

He said it would be a huge respite for them if the concerned authorities and the government could come up with a remedy to this problem.

According to the FCBL officials, they are well aware of the problem and are trying their best to ease the problem. “Providing proper storage facilities to the farmers has been long overdue but the situation got aggravated this season after National Housing Development Corporation Limited (NHDCL) took over the space in our premise where they used to store their potatoes in the past,” said the Yard Manager, Ugyen Penjor.

He said they are trying to sell out more quantities every day so as to cut short the farmers’ wait.  At least 20 truckloads of potatoes are being sold every day and that is seven truckloads more than that of usual quantities auctioned in a day every season.

“But this comes with a demerit. The Indian buyers take advantage of our situation and try to haggle and pull down the price,” said Ugyen Penjor.

The FCBL officials mentioned that the space crunch would never surface if the farmers bring their produce on time rather than rushing at the end of the season.

“Potato export begins from May and it goes on till mid of December but our farmers hoard it until the last moment. Maybe they expect better price towards the end of the season but the law of economics works otherwise. The price deceases when supply is on the rise, and this is what our farmers have to understand,” he said.

He added that the last minute rush causes congestion and unnecessary hassles to the farmers as well as to the FCBL officials.

As per record, over 14,337 metric tons (MT) of potatoes have been sold so far and the graph indicates that a majority of the quantity sold was in the month of October and November. Going by the past records too, the trend is very identical.

But with the launch of online auction system, the officials are hopeful that the problem of storage facilities can be addressed. This system facilitates the farmers to sell their produce directly without having to throng the auction yard every season.

“Slowly, our farmers are becoming aware of the online auctions. We are selling at least 500 bags of potatoes every day and so far, we have sold over 775 MT worth Nu 12.37 million through this system,” said Purna Tamang, the Online Auction Manager.

He said installing grading machines at regional centers and offering online auctioning facilities can solve many pertinent issues.

Meanwhile, over 14,773.6 MT worth Nu 216 million of potatoes have been sold through open auction this season. The price for large-size potato is Nu 23 per kilogram, while the small and medium sizes are fetching around Nu 6 to Nu 11 respectively.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing