FCB conducts potato auctions online amid the pandemic

The Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) has started conducting potato auctions online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is also strictly enforcing Plant Quarantine Rules on potato export which mandates exporters to obtain a certificate from the authority before exporting their goods. FCB and BAFRA officials are currently sensitising farmers and local leaders in various districts about the auctioning system and the new regulations. Farmers now need not have to travel to FCB’s auction yards in Phuentshogling, Samdrup Jongkhar or Gelegphu this year to sell their potatoes. Potato growers can instead hire a truck and send their harvest to the auction yards. The auctions will be conducted with the Indian bidders through WhatsApp. FCB has posted six coordinators to facilitate the shipment of the potatoes in around 13 potato-growing districts. FCB and BAFRA officials recently met with local leaders and farmers in Bumthang. “When we send the shipment from the districts to our auction yard, we will punch the name, citizenship identity card number and other details of the drivers in our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system which will become accessible to officials at Phuentshogling auction yard. So there is no risk of getting the goods misplaced or lost. FCB will take all the risks once the potatoes are handed over to us”, said Ugyen, the FCB Zonal Coordinator for Bumthang and Trongsa. Before the potatoes are transported to Phuentshogling, BAFRA officials will conduct a certification inspection. People are also required to pack the potatoes in Polypropylene or PP Leno bags, which will be made available by FCB. Potatoes also have to be cleaned properly and made soil-free as far as possible. According to Pendenla, the Officer In-charge of the BAFRA Field Office in Bumthang, exporters and dealers will have to contact respective BAFRA offices before a week’s time so that the potatoes can be inspected for the certification. Farmers can export the potatoes only after the certification. The phytosanitary certificate is an assurance that the potatoes are disease-free and safe for human consumption as is required in international trade. Farmers will have to bear the transportation charges and weigh the potatoes themselves at source although weighing will also be done once again at the auction yard. Shacha, from Gyaltsa village under Chhumig Gewog of Bumthang, says this year’s arrangement is better and convenient for the farmers. “We often have to wait for weeks at Phuentshogling when we take the potatoes ourselves for auction,” he said. Another Chhumig resident, Phuntsho from Domkhar village shared it is difficult to find a weighing machine. He said it would be very helpful to the farmers if the FCB and the Gewog Administration could arrange a weighing facility. The FCB zonal coordinator in Bumthang said the agency and the Dzongkhag Administration will support farmers with the weighing equipment if necessary. Currently, large-sized potatoes fetch around Nu 24 to 25 per kilogram and the medium-sized ones are sold at Nu 18 to 20 a kilogram at the Phuentsholing auction yard.

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