The potato situation in Bhutan might get even worse. There are no potatoes at the source - ie with the farmers. Potato producing areas in west Bhutan like Phobjikha and Gangtey in Wangduephodrang and Genekha in Thimphu ran out of potatoes. The demand for the tuber and the shortage is earning farmers record prices of about Nu 50 a kilogram (kg).
Phobjikha Mangmi, Sati attributes the price hike to the poor yield of potatoes this year. “If a household produced a truck load, about 10,000 kg of potatoes last year, they managed only about 3,000kg this year,” said Sati.
Farmers in Phobjikha and Gangtey said production slumped this year because of hailstorms earlier in spring. Tandin Wangchuk from Gangtey used to produce 400 quintals (1 quintal=100 kg) of potatoes but this year only 40 quintals of potatoes were produced from his land.
Tandin Wangchuk said that had it not been for the price hike he would have incurred a huge loss. Last year, he earned about Nu 300,000 from 400 quintals of potatoes. But this year he earned nearly Nu 200,000 from 40 quintals of potatoes.
The demand of potatoes and the price increased from October. People of Phobjikha and Gangtey sold their potatoes for between Nu 2,500 and Nu 3,200 a quintal in October. By November a quintal was sold at Nu 5,000. By then all villagers had already sold all of the potatoes. In Genekha gewog, Thimphu, farmers are regretting their haste.
Farmers of Genekha had sold their potatoes immediately after the lockdown to the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCBL) and private individuals exporting to Bangladesh immediately after the lockdown.
Farmers were worried that the potatoes would rot with the lockdown and restrictions on export. The villagers sold potatoes between Nu 1,050 and Nu 1,300 after the lockdown.
Nim Dorji, 70, from Zamtog village, Genekha benefited the most from the price. He sold 200 sacks of potatoes for Nu 2,500 per sack. A sack of potato contains between 48kg and 53kg.
Choeday from Zamtog said that she got between Nu 2,300 and Nu 2,500 a sack during October and November and could sell only 19 sacks. “I sold 300 sacks of potato after the lockdown,” Choeday said. She is now full of regrets.
Genekha farmers are clearing their fields and gearing for mass potato cultivation next year.
Nim Dorji still has 70 sacks of seed potatoes which he is going to cultivate in his three acre land. “Normally we do not get more than Nu 1,300 per sack and have to bear transportation charges.”
The villagers said, with middlemen coming to their village, there was no need to market their produce. Some farmers are even selling the seed potatoes because the price is too good to resist.
Chimi Wangmo, a villager in Zamtog said that she sold 10 sacks of potato for Nu 1,900 at the end of October and she had only seed potatoes left which she wouldn’t sell. She sold 200 sacks of potatoes after lockdown.
The last potato from Gangtey, Phobjikha and Genekha were sold by the end of November.