Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Is there a silver lining to the rupee crunch?

It’s obvious that a lot of people are worried about the rupee crunch that’s upon us Bhutanese this spring. People have children in India who they have to send money to, businessmen are worried about imports, vegetable vendors are complaining about the increased value of the rupee compared to the ngultrum and subsequently the increased price of the vegetables, everyone is worried about inflation, people who are halfway through constructing buildings are having a hard time completing their work, and the crisis may threaten the ngultrum-rupee peg itself.

But is there a flip side to the whole crisis? We have been aware for a very long time, that we have a very unhealthy practice of buying almost everything from India, while not selling enough to it, and this rupee crisis is a result of that lack of self sustenance. Will the rupee shortage force us to become a little more self sufficient?

I mentioned an interesting conversation with a friend in my last post, and he certainly thinks so. He cites the example of the lack of eggs due to the bird flu scares, and how that has led to a complete replacement of imported (and inferior quality) eggs with local eggs, and how, despite the increase in price, people still eat eggs.  In fact, he says, people won’t want to go back to eating the small white eggs again, even if they are cheaply available in the market. Sounds like a success story.

So, will that happen? When we find that Indian vegetables and other commodities are no longer available in the market, or are as expensive as the local ones because of the informal increase in rupee value, will people start consuming local goods, thus replacing the imported goods with local goods permanently?

I don’t know. I sure hope so, but I also get the nagging feeling that it isn’t going be all that automatic as my friend suggests. We can work this situation into an advantage, and use it to boost our local economy, but that definitely needs some active, conscious action.

We should have been able to replace imported items with local ones already. Local products are supposedly of better quality, healthier, and tastier. So why hasn’t the average Bhutanese preferred local goods to imported ones? Of course, reasons vary for different items, but lets talk food products here.

The first answer is probably because of the higher cost of local goods. The higher cost can be attributed to lack of competition among the local produce, and that, in turn to the small yield from farms. I may be wrong- I have heard of people having to throw away vegetables (potatoes) because they couldn’t sell it all off. But in general, I feel I am right in this. Obviously, this is conjecture, and the concerned agency needs to look at why local produce is not main source of food for us.

Incidentally, who is the concerned agency? The agriculture ministry, for now, but it’s about time we had an agency which looked solely at how to boost local economy through agriculture. Not just boost agriculture, or cottage industries, but economy through agriculture. This body can be small, and work with various other organisations, but work solely to ensure that our farmers grow more, grow for business, find ways to turn more and more farm produce into marketable goods, ensure that the products are of a certain quality, and also to help them market their goods.

The agriculture ministry probably works at helping farmers produce more. But something is definitely going wrong somewhere in between when this work doesn’t translate into results. What happened, for instance, to the three crop policy that was introduced a few years ago?

We need to look at the real problems of our farmers. Do they have the right seeds, the right breed of animals, the right knowledge to grow these crops and rear the animals? Do they have enough land, enough fertilizers, enough water to irrigate their lands? Do they have roads to help them transport their goods to the outlets? Are there enough cooperatives that help them sell their produce? Or are our farmers just lazy? We aren’t really a lot of people to feed, smaller and more difficult lands have been able to feed larger population than ours.

The rupee crisis may open the eyes of our farmers to the opportunity to market their locally grown produce, and eventually replace all imported farm produce- it may hide a silver lining.  But it may not work out that way, unless active steps are taken. We can wait and watch, or we can make it happen.

Meanwhile, you can do your bit to enhance this ‘silver lining’ by consciously choosing local products- local milk, butter, cheese, salt, vegetables, locally produced snacks (a lot of locally produced potato chips, fried nuts, fried snacks, and even fried tengma is available in town, and they are probably more healthier than MSG filled imported snacks), packaged drinks, and furniture.



Filed under Bhutan, Entrepreneurship, government, new ventures, Uncategorized

My friend the dairy farmer

Youngten Lempen Tharchen, or Tharchen, to his friends, is a graduate from Sherubtse College, Kanglung, a former journalist, and a dairy farmer in Dagana.
Always resourceful, Tharchen is intelligent and would have done well at the civil service exams, but instead he chose to avail an interest-free loan from Loden Foundation and set up a small dairy farm in his village in Dagana.
He has six cows, a bull, a small patch of family land on which he built a shed, and family members who help him with the work. He has already started selling some products, and he may not exactly be rolling in the money now, but he is far from giving up.
In fact, Tharchen has some admirable goals- he dreams of making the farm bigger and involving all the farmers in his area to form some sort of cooperative, and increase supply of local dairy products as much as possible.
He has come up against a lot of very interesting issues in the course of his work, and I suggested that he start his own blog to write about them and his farm- I am sure a lot of people will find it interesting and inspiring.
Tharchen’s choice is inspiring to me- he has paved a new road for himself off the beaten track, away from what people expect a young intelligent graduate to do, and proved to us that there is no boundary young people like us need to stick to when it comes to work. He has also followed a dream he has nursed for a while and gone for it.
His goals also inspire me. He wishes to help the people in his community improve their lives by increasing their income, and has taken the first step towards that goal- setting up a dairy farm in his village and talking to the people in his community.
It would be wonderful to see a community benefit each other by working as a cooperative and producing enough milk to supply atleast a part of the country. This is better for the economy of the country, we will not have to depend so much on import, and our farmers will be making a better living. AND he is helping address the unemployment problem in his own small way by being self-employed, and later by employing more people to work with him.
Tharchen also aims to make his products organic- another plus. The possibilities are unlimited- he can work with tourism and actually help the government make good their aim of starting off agro tourism, selling to tourists the opportunity to live in a rural household. He can, and wants to, start off small community projects involving children.
He has started off something promising and full of opportunities, and I wish him all the best. And I also hope that soon there will be a blog from the man himself, writing about dairy farming and life in Dagana.
Most of all, I hope his story inspires you as much as it inspires me.

Revision- 11 July 2011: Tharchen started blogging, his first post is about how he became a dairy farmer.


Filed under Bhutan, Entrepreneurship, Loden Foundation