Better marketing linkages for potato
Potato is the fourth most important world food crop after wheat, rice, and maize. In Bhutan potato is cultivated for domestic consumption and considered a staple diet. However over the years farmers produce it for sale and are considered it as main source of income.
As per the earliest documents available potato reached Bhutan in the 17th century. George Boggle, a representative of the East India Company, planted potato at every place he stopped on his journey to Bhutan and Tibet in 1774-75. It is popularly believed that potato must have spread gradually through most parts of the country in the 17th and 18th century.
The potato cultivation has dramatically increased in Bhutan after the establishment of the Department of Agriculture in 1961 and products were sold to Indian markets.
In Bhutan, potato ranks first in terms of volume of agriculture trade and is placed second in terms of value of export as next to oranges. The crop is ideally suited to environment and climatic conditions of Bhutan. The high yield potential, affordability, nutritional value and consumer preference for potato has provided tremendous impact on the rural population through income and employment generation.
But the cultivation has not come too easy and challenges were many. The crop damaged by the wild pigs has posed a great threat to the sus- tainability of the farmers. According to the Bhutan Food Strategy study it has been given to understand that about 9% of potato is damaged by the wild animals every year.
Further the crop is also venerable to pest and disease. The potato tuber moth has posed a serious threat to the farmers in Eastern Bhutan and farmers cover the crop with ferns and banana leaves. On the other parts of the country people use ash, lemon grass and extracts from other plants to keep the pest at bay.
There are enough challenges with transportation and storage. There is a need for easy availability of transport services and cold storage facilities for the farmers once the crop is harvested. It is common to see farmers waiting for 2-3 days at the road head to find a vehicle to ferry this harvest to the nearest auction yard.
Poor road infrastructure and disregard for standards such as weight per bag and rough handling of produce result in high postharvest losses.
In order to raise the production of potato farmers must find ways to lower the cost of production and increase the volume, yield and quality through better provision of inputs and use of business development services.
This can be done by using improved variety of seeds and using of improved farming technology.
In other to achieve this, better marketing systems and market information is must along with better market linkages.