New Export Avenues for Potatoes Amid Production Challenges

In a strategic move aimed at stabilizing its potato industry and expanding export horizons, Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL) is setting its sights on new markets in Nepal and Bangladesh. This initiative seeks to mitigate the impact of fluctuating prices and declining production that have posed challenges to thousands of potato farmers across the kingdom.

Potatoes, a cornerstone of Bhutan’s agricultural landscape cultivated across all 20 dzongkhags, have traditionally relied heavily on the Indian market. However, recent statistics reveal a concerning trend. According to the Integrated Agriculture and Livestock Census of Bhutan 2022, potato production plummeted by 19 percent from 2021 to 2022, marking a drop from 38,573 metric tonnes to 31,146 metric tonnes. This decline has been particularly pronounced in key potato-producing regions such as Wangdue, Paro, and Bumthang.

The fluctuation in production levels over the past five years, peaking at 45,500 metric tonnes in 2020 and now descending to the current levels, underscores the need for diversified market strategies. Parliament Member Kuenga from Nyisho Saephu voiced concerns during a recent session about the diminishing number of potato growers and proposed establishing local auction yards to attract diverse buyers and foster a competitive market environment.

In response, Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho outlined proactive measures. These include enhancing the online auctioning system to provide real-time market and pricing information, and integrating Artificial Intelligence technologies to streamline agricultural operations.

Despite these challenges, Bhutan has seen a promising surge in potato exports. Figures from the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) indicate that exports soared by 91 percent in both volume and value in 2022, reaching 11,736 metric tonnes valued at Nu 194 million. This upward trajectory reflects efforts to bolster infrastructure, with new cold storage facilities scheduled for completion in Zhemgang and Samtse by August this year, adding to the existing 15 facilities across the nation.

“The completion of a state-of-the-art potato integrated facility in Gangtey, Wangdue, is imminent,” shared Lyonpo, indicating further infrastructure developments in the pipeline for Chumey, Bumthang, and Khaling, Trashigang.

Innovative agricultural practices are also being embraced. Initiatives such as importing climate-resilient potato clones from the International Potato Centre in Peru and exploring new varieties from Nepal aim to enhance yield and quality. This includes the introduction of Yusi Maap-2 and the evaluation of bio-fortified clones in multiple locations across Yusipang and Bumthang.

Looking forward, Bhutan’s agricultural sector, comprising agriculture, livestock, and forestry, plays a pivotal role in the economy, contributing approximately 14.67 percent to the GDP. With ambitious targets set to increase this contribution significantly by 2029 and 2034, Bhutan is poised to leverage its agricultural strengths and emerging opportunities in global markets, ensuring a sustainable future for its farmers and the nation as a whole.

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