Most potato farmers in Bumthang say there is a need of a potato auction yard in their district. Transporting potatoes to Phuentshogling is difficult for the commercial potato growers in Bumthang as the district is located furthest from the country's biggest potato auction centre.
It takes at least 2 days to reach their annual harvest to Phuentshogling for the farmers of Bumthang.
Like in most potato growing districts, it's potato harvest season in Bumthang, these days. Most farmers have almost finished harvesting their crop while others have started transporting them to Phuentshogling. The harvests come after a 5-month long gruelling battle against pests, unpredictable weather and marauding wild boars. Though electric fences have helped people in protecting their crops from wild animals, many farmers still have to guard their crops in huts, at night. After the harvesting period is over, farmers have to ready their yield to be transported to Phuentshogling. It costs more than Nu 20,000 for farmers in Bumthang to take a truckload of potatoes to Phuentshogling. Transporting of the harvests to Phuentshogling and auctioning them usually takes more than a week. This, according to the farmers is a very lengthy and tiresome process.
"We would be grateful if an auction yard is set up in Bumthang. Without an auction yard nearby, commercial potato farming is very difficult for us, as we have to take our harvest to Phuentshogling. We face difficulties finding a vehicle to transport our potatoes and sometimes we come across roadblocks and it takes at least 3 days before we reach Phuentshogling. This makes the potatoes to rot. After the auction is done, then we will have to wait for few more days to get our cash. It is difficult for us to book lodges and stay when we carry limited pocket money," said Tshewang Dorji, from Trakar village, Chummig, Bumthang.
"From about 8 households who usually cultivate potatoes in my village, due to wild boar attacks on our crops, lack of a nearby auction yard and other associated harvesting and transportation issues, only 2 households have cultivated the crop this year. It's difficult when we don't own a truck and have to hire from others. Other factors such as the tubers getting rotten during unfavourable weather conditions also discourages farmers to continue cultivating the crop," Rinzin Lhamo, from Phurjoen village, Chummig, Bumthang.
However, Food Corporation of Bhutan's (FCB) Chief Executive Officer, Naiten Wangchuk said, farmers in Bumthang preferred bringing potatoes to Phuentshogling than having an auction facility in Bumthang during a consultation meeting, last year.
"We met with the farmers in Bumthang last year and talked about the installation of a grading machine and construction of a warehouse with them. However, they said they have to anyhow go to Phuentshogling, once every winter to buy rations and also said that potatoes fetch better prices in Phuentshogling. That's why we couldn't execute our plans," Naiten Wangchuk, the CEO of FCB, said.
Whereas, farmers say it would be only a few sections of the farming population who would prefer going to Phuentshogling for the auction. To this, the FCB's CEO said, there are possibilities of introducing an online auctioning system from various potato-growing districts in the future, which is less cost-intensive. Building a potato auction facility with a warehouse and grading machine costs about Nu 25 M.
"What we could have is, unlike the conventional auctioning system, we could have the warehouse and the grading machines installed and come up with the online auctioning system where people do not have to be physically present. That would require support from the central government and as well as from the local government. On FCBL's part, we will put all our efforts to have such kind of system in place" the FCB CEO added.
Farmers also said some political candidates in the past also promised to build such a facility in Bumthang, which never got materialized. And there is no budget allocated for it in Bumthang Dzongkhag's current Five Year Plan budget.