Tomato growers rotting in neglect

Sangay Rabten


Farmers feeding tomatoes to cattle having no market 

Despite steady demand and good price, tomato growers of Chuzanggang gewog in Sarpang are deterred to grow the fruit due to market constraints.

Mounds of ripened harvested tomatoes are left to rot in hot sun or often fed to cattle while unpicked organic tomatoes are left to wither in farmers’ field with no cold storage facilities or hope at mere sight.  

Many plots of vegetables and especially tomatoes for now grown in villages are being left to rot because farmers can’t sell to them at the Gelephu vegetable market, schools, and residents of towns or to locals.

According to the instruction of government, the ministry of agriculture and gewog agriculture extension officials, while efforts are being made by farmers to increase production of vegetables to meet the demand of the Bhutanese market, the demand is low which has directly affected the growers.

“This is a catastrophe,” tomato grower Rinchen Lhamo (35) from Pangzor village, who started a vegetable farm, said. “We haven’t even started to calculate it. It’s going to be in the few thousands of Ngultrum. Losses mount every day,” she said.

Rinchen Lhamo and her family have worked hard during the lockdown. She could sell only 40 kg of tomatoes and 90 percent is rotting in the garden. “I have invested few thousands in cultivating the vegetables, worked in heat and rain but I am not getting my invested money back. I am losing interest in farming now,” she said.

Sonam Choki (60) from the same village says that she had fed 10 kilograms of tomatoes to her cattle and another 10 kgs were given free of cost from an average 80 kg of tomatoes production. “I am demotivated and I will not cultivate tomato in future,” she said. 

Pema (61) from Yuling village said that she had to feed tomatoes and cabbages to cattle as there is no market. She cultivated four rows of tomato paying labour charges but did not earn single penny. “I am not interested in growing tomato nor cabbages from now on,” she said.

Belonging from the same village Tshering (55) is far from alone. She laments the circumstances of her tomato-growing friends find themselves in with 80 percent or more of their vegetables wasted. She cries “Everybody is in the same situation.”

Tshering said, “I have worked alone in the field but my hard work is not rewarded.” Her tomatoes and cabbages were also wasted. She said buyers in Gelephu would want vegetables at very low rate or for free not understanding the farmers’ toil.   

“There is no way we can capitalize from vegetable farming in absence of a viable market. I have lost all hopes,” Tshering added.

Meanwhile, on the contrary, vegetable vendors of Gelephu in the weekend vegetable market are selling imported tomatoes.

One of the vegetable vendors, Lhazin said that some vendors are not aware that tomatoes and other vegetables are rotting in farmers’ garden. She said that having no personal vehicle and lacking man power to run the business doesn’t bode well for their businesses.

On other hand Chenga Dema says that the local growers are charging exorbitant rate for the perishable items. ”Hence, we have no option than to opt for selling imported vegetables,” she said. 

Agriculture officials insisted farmers to grow different varieties of crops and vegetables for country’s self-sufficiency but many growers are already reeling from huge loses without viable markets for their produce.

Gewog agriculture extension officer Tashi Dawa said that government had encouraged to take up the farming. However, he said people are looking for everything to be done by government.

He said that farmers were asked to look for their own market. Tashi Dawa said till last year villagers were growing vegetables in small scale and it only this year that vegetables are grown at commercial level.

He pointed out that people are not coming up for collective marketing so it can be supplied to Gelephu vegetable market or sent to Thimphu. The other reason he pointed was that Bhutanese price cannot compete with Indian price where vendors prefer imported vegetables which was more affordable.

The agriculture extension officer recommended that farmers should work collaboratively with Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory to stop vegetable imports and produce vegetables and with Regional Agriculture Machinery Centre (RAMC) to explore markets.