For the first time 80-plus Lhuentse farmers are growing cabbage, cauliflower, radish, peas and beans in the summer months, and in volumes which are clearly meant for the market. Says Rik van Keulen, SNV Bhutan's team leader for agriculture after his recent visit, "This is really a revolution for them: if they ever cultivated these vegetables before, it was only in the winter and only for home consumption. The farmers are themselves at awe about these rapid developments."
In Thrima, Gangzur geog, women have started cultivating cabbage, cauliflower, radish, carrots, peas and beans as a group, as they do not even have the experience of growing these crops at all. "This year we have to learn. If we are successful, we will start doing this individually from next year onwards", says Ms. Deki Peldon, member of the women group.
In Jalang, Minji geog, the radish was ready for harvesting, and we showed the farmers how to wash and pack them. Mr. Phuntshok, better known as Guru-la, said with a big grin: “If I had died yesterday, then I wouldn’t have known that radish needs to be washed before selling it. And that traders have a preferred way of packing radish.”
The Off-Season Vegetable Programme, implemented by the Regional Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives Office Mongar, is part of the IFAD-funded Market Access and Growth Intensification Project. The programme is promoting vegetable production in the six Eastern Dzonkhags: around 1100 farmers in 29 clusters. Most vegetables will be sold to domestic markets, but surpluses will be marketed to Assam. Indian traders are eager to buy Bhutanese products from May to September, as the Indian plains are too hot and humid to grow vegetables in these summer months. Their prices might not be so good, but the volumes they can buy will definitely compensate for that.
SNV is supporting this programme with market analyses studies, linking the farmers to Bhutanese traders and vice-versa, and helping traders to access business loans if they require. By working with Practical Solutions, a local consultancy firm, SNV also intends to create local capacities outside the government which can replicate similar approaches in the future.