Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCB) has explored and managed to find customers for more than 50 Metric Ton (MT) of cardamom that was bought from the farmers through buy-back scheme. FCB sold this through intermediates though it did not have much time and scope for better marketing.
The government had directed FCB to procure the produce from farmers and explore marketing opportunities when the price for cardamom hit record low last season.
FCB has exported the cardamom to Bangladesh through an agent, which they say has recovered the expenses incurred without much profit. The government was allocated Nu 50mn to start the buy-back scheme. As of now, FCB has spent more than Nu 30mn to complete procuring and packaging procedures. They have deployed four teams across eight dzongkhags to buy back the cardamom from the farmers providing services as nearest as possible for them to reach their produce.
FCB had initially hoped to export the produce in the regional and international market. But the attempt did not succeed with limited time, according to FCB's Director under Department of Corporate Business, Dorji Tashi. "Since it was an impromptu directive from the government, we didn't have much time to explore the market," he said.
However, FCB said that the amount has only met the expenses incurred for the procurement.
Cardamom market can be explored in the middle-east countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh where the demand remains constant.
Meanwhile FCB is also exploring the market for 15MT of cardamom which was earlier procured from the farmers at around Nu 10mn. The produce was planned to be exported after being properly packaged. The produce will be graded and packed after cutting its tails to maintain quality. But without machines all the works are done manually which is labor intensive and costly.
FCB is still marketing the cardamom which is stored in the auction yard in Phuentsholing. They are exploring markets in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka after value addition for better prices.
Since FCB is dealing with cardamom for the first time, it is now willing to continue if the government wishes. "If the government wants us to continue to procure the following years, we will as the farmers will have an easy and reliable market," Dorji Tashi said.
FCB is hopeful to pay better prices to the farmers if their plan to export is fulfilled after adding value and through standard packaging.
Already, Bhutan has created brand in organic agro products which will be boosted if FCB focuses on proper packaging and viable market. Cardamom is expected to fetch better prices in the international market where the price may increase by three-fold than the current local market price.
Investing in market exploration and maintaining brand with organic content through good packaging are hoped to fetch better price.
FCB is also planning to invest in a processing plant where the product is cleaned, graded and packaged before export. "It will help to promote our brand and get better market which we can transfer for the farmer's benefit," Dorji Tashi said.
FCB hopes to succeed in their plans with financial help from the government.
Most farmers in Bhutan started cardamom cultivation along the southern foothills when the price soared in the market a decade ago. They focused on the crop and it became a prime source of income for them. However, the plummeting price has now compelled them to return to growing other crops. The price had once skyrocketed to Nu 1,800 per kg but now it has drastically fallen to Nu 450 even for supreme quality.
Meanwhile, farmers are hopeful to continue cardamom cultivation if FCB continues with the scheme offering better prices. "Otherwise, the prices are decreasing gradually. We have to think twice before going to the field," Dhan Bdr Rai, a farmer in Phuentsholing gewog said.