Saturday, May 30, 2020

Thank God For COVID-19 II

Bhutan is now faced with an extraordinary situation – a situation of surplus production in the face of contracted market! Now, what the dang hell do I mean by this? Let me explain it simply:

As a measure of mitigation against an extended lock-down by India, we began importing billions worth of food items from India. Although necessary in the interim, it has nonetheless partially dried up the market for our famers and their produce.

Hundreds upon thousands of tourists are barred from entering the country – resulting in hundreds of hotels being shut down for lack of business. This has caused a severe decline in the country’s consumptive capacity for farm produces – including hunger and starvation among the stray canine population of the country.

There was an exodus of Indian construction laborers out of the country – to celebrate Holi – just before a COVID-19 active case was detected within the country. By necessity, the country went into semi-lockdown condition and barred the re-entry of these laborers, thereby reducing consumers by the tens of thousands. The farm produce market contracted further as a result.

The COVID-19 rendered tens of thousands jobless – causing decline in the Bhutanese people’s purchasing power as a whole. People feared shortages – in addition to running out of money to buy essentials. To counter that – they resorted to farming - to safe guard themselves from hunger and starvation and as a means to save money. This will eventually result in even further contraction in the farm produce market.

In the face of all that, the country is not prepared to handle a surge in farm production. To aggravate the situation further, we do not have cold storage and processing facilities, to absorb the excess production.

The only hope is that India will remain under locked-down condition for a while longer so that import of food from India will remain restricted. This way, food items that used to be imported can be substituted by local production. Under restricted conditions, there will be no Indian produces to compete with overpriced local productions. However, a price control mechanism may have to be introduced – to ensure that greedy farmers and middlemen do not over price local produces.

1 comment:

  1. I am also overly concerned with this sudden surge into vegetable farming by all walks of Bhutanese society. I have pointed it out to relevant officials in the MoAF but they seem to have everything covered without any clear plan.

    This week the ministry issued a circular banning the import of certain vegetables and fruits from India. This again is a clear indication of not having any strategic plans to deal with market forces etc. In the absence of any clear vision, the bureacracy's go-to action is always a ban. The problem with bans is that it inflates prices at home. Look at eggs for example. They say we are self-sufficient in eggs but prices can go up to 380 Nu per tray. I can easily assume that this price competes with the most expensive cities like Geneva and Tokyo.

    As an aside, I tell those around me that I am not into growing vegetables this time because people will have lots to give away soon. Anyway, I hope farming finds a big niche in the new economic plan. I think we have to think big and way way out of the box. Our products are more natural and clean and there should be a ready market in the neighboring countries. The private sector has to be roped in to cover aspects such as marketting and post harvest facilities. Experience shows that the government does a shitty job in building and operating such facilities - the cold storages in Yusipang and Dagana are proof enough. Financial institutions have to go easy on those willing to take up this profession and we need to professionalize and privatize such services like agriculture extension. Right now we have 205 agriculture extension workers, most just guzzling vast amounts of TA DA with zero input.

    2020 will be a good teacher if we learn from it. But given the current responses, I feel it will be water under the bridge leaving us lost and reinventing the wheel all over again.