Bomdeling Jamkhar’s Member of Parliament (MP) Dupthob questioned Lyonchhen Dasho Dr. Lotay Tshering on difficulties faced by farmers in the southern region in selling doma (areca nut) in the ongoing national assembly session.
The MP said that in the southern region, many people are into the doma business, and even when there is abundant produce and doma are at a much cheaper rate than the imported ones.
“Still then, they are facing the problem of selling the product in the local market and as well as in exporting the product as there was an issue with tax and regulation,” he added.
He said usually, doma comes in red color but turns white when placed in chemicals. “The Bhutanese importing the product even supports such doma products and label them as a quality product,” he added. “So, the imported ones which are white in color are preferred more by the Bhutanese.”
Responding to the queries, Lyonchhen said that eating doma is embedded in Bhutanese custom, so most Bhutanese usually tend to eat doma.
“Up until now, there was no concrete evidence and example on how doma business happened in the country and there were plans before the onset of Covid-19 on doma business and regulation but because of the pandemic, such plans could not happen,” he said.
Further, Lyonchhen said that there was no expertise concerning doma and its fermentation process in Bhutan.
“During the plucking season of the areca nut, the Indians from the neighboring border would come and use their expertise in plucking the doma. However, because of the pandemic, there was no such expertise placed, and that there were no Bhutanese who could take on the job,” he said.
Before the Bhutanese doma plantation owners sold new doma for the fermentation process for Nu 25 to 30 a kg but when it came back to Bhutan, it cost around Nu 250 to 300 a kg for muza (old doma).
“When the government tried to arrange for the export of doma to the neighboring countries asking the proprietor of the doma plantation to collect and bring the product in a place, yet they were reluctant and mentioned that there was no one who could climb the doma tree,” Lyonchhen added.
The doma that are grown in Bhutan are not preferred as per the Indian regulation. Lyonchhen further added that the doma planted in Bhutan should not be exported rather it should be sold in the local market.
He also suggested that people who are into doma business be taught how to climb doma trees, plucking of doma, and the fermentation process of doma which can make Bhutan self-sufficient in doma business.
The work of doma business has started at Damdum Industrial park in Samtse for the fermentation process and as for the peeling of doma, a small industry is placed in Paro.
Meanwhile, Dupthob said, from a health perspective, the imported ones are said to contain chemicals that can be hazardous to health and even cause cancer.
To fasten the fermentation process, Lyonchhen said, the doma producers put in disulfide chemicals and research has been going on whether it will affect the health of an individual. “So, until and unless the results are declared, there is no concrete evidence to say that such products are hampering health.”
Annually, Bhutan produces around 15,000 metric tons of doma.