Tomato: A New Enterprise for Highland Farmers of Haa

Haa is located in the cool temperate agro-ecological zone with a short growing season of just over six months. Haa represents a typical highland subsistence mountain farming systems, where commercial agribusinesses is often not sustainable due to difficult terrain, small volume of production and high cost of labour.

Traditionally, Haa is associated with dried yak cheese (Haapi Ruto), fresh cheese, butter and potatoes. It is unbelievable that Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)) has become a new enterprise and agribusiness for Haa farmers. It all became possible through the partnership between the Haa Organic Farming Support Initiative (HOFSI) and the Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project (FSAPP), which supported Haa farmers through the Haa Dzongkhag Agriculture sector.  The HOFSI project is supported by a private donor from Austria, while FSAPP is funded by the Global Agriculture & Food Security Program (GAFSP) with World Bank as the supervising entity. These two projects widely promoted the protected cultivation technology of simple plastic green houses to the farmers. This partnership has brought multiple benefits and visible impacts to the farmers, which include the demonstration of protected cultivation as a climate resilient technology, production of high value, nutritious, fresh and safe organic vegetables, and commercial tomato cultivation as a new enterprise for income generation. Production of tomatoes in commercial scale in the natural environment of Haa is impossible, due to low temperature and monsoon rains, that favours tomato blight diseases. Today, tomato has become an established cash crop in Bjee, Katsho, Eusu and Samar Gewogs of Haa Dzongkhags engaging 91 farmers.

The initial idea of tomato production in green houses was introduced in Haa as early as 2005, through the Wang Watershed project. This initiative was picked up and scaled to semi-intensive scale by the HOFSI from 2014. The FSAP project was instrumental in upscaling this technology to a commercial scale since 2017. Today there are some 188 green houses in Haa. Of these, 86 are fabricated structures of 20 X 5 meters size, 27 are fabricated measuring 10 x 5 meters, and 65 are low cost types, built by using imported plastic and locally available materials. The plastic houses are supplied to the farmers on a cost sharing basis, where farmers have to bear 20 to 40% of the total cost of structures, while the project bears the remaining 80 to 60%. Farmers can pay the cost on an annual installment.

The HOFSI supply the fabricated green house at 40% cost by the farmer, while through FSAPP, the farmers are charged only 20% of the total cost.

The commercial production of tomatoes in Haa picked up from 2018, with a total production of 5870 kilograms produced by 17 households from Eusu Gewog.

In the year 2019, the number of households engaged in tomato production in Esu Gewog increased to 28. The total production was 17,885 Kgs, of which, 16,200 Kgs were sold at a farm gate price of Nu. 44 per kg, earning a total income of Nu. 712,800. To facilitate the marketing, Dzongkhag Agriculture sector organized the farmers into one Vegetable production group consisting of 35 households. With support of the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) and FSAPP, the marketing of Haa tomatoes was started in August 2019 at Centenary Farmers Market in the capital city Thimphu. This marketing channel is now established, and now consumers in Thimphu can buy fresh organic tomatoes of Haa from the first week of August till September. The gross income of this group from sale of tomatoes was Nu. 244,620.

A simple cost benefit analysis show that farmers start reaping net profits from tomato production in plastic house from the 4th year (Table 1). The tomato production from a plastic house measuring 20 m X 5 m, with a total cultivation area of 100 m2 was 750 kgs in Haa.  This production translated to a gross income of Nu. 30,000.00 at the farm gate price of Nu. 40 per Kg.  The total labour days required to cultivate this area is 40 days, which amounts to a total labour cost Nu. 8,600, estimated using national wage rate of Nu. 215 per day per person.  After keeping the provision of Nu.19,100 for payment of loan installment for the green house, the farmer makes a profit of Nu. 10,900 (Table 1). The income from winter crops, which can be grown in the green house further adds to the profit of the farmer. From the 5th year, the income can double with the loan for the green houses already liquidated in the 4th year.

The establishment of a successful of tomato agribusiness was not accomplished easily. During the initial years, production of organic tomato suffered series of challenges; tomato was highly susceptible to blight diseases, the choice of variety was limited, irrigation facilities were absent, and farmers knowledge on tomato cultivation was limited. All these challenges were overcome through project funds that helped in building the capacity of the farmers in green house crop management, providing and installing drip irrigation in the green houses, and supply seeds of right variety and rigorous monitoring by the agriculture extension staffs.

Although tomato is an established small scale agribusiness for Haa farmers, more support to farmers will be required to improve the quality of products, maintaining adequate soil fertility with organic inputs in the plastic houses, strengthening the tomato agribusiness group, branding and certifying  the Haa tomatoes as  organic. The immediate threats to this small agribusiness include, market competition from within and outside the country. For this reason, a Vegetable Producer Group was formed in 2019, and the group is already linked to one of the schools during the start of 2020.

The next steps for the project include; the introduction of indeterminate varieties, which will allow staggered harvesting to meet the demand of small Bhutanese market, promotion of smart irrigation facilities, and linking farmers group to other vegetable entrepreneurs in the urban areas. For now, the cultivation of tomatoes in the protected structures has turned out to be a successful alternative livelihood for many farmers of the four Gewogs. This technology is gender friendly and largely managed by the women farmers. This technology will also enhance the nutritional security of highland farmers, as many fresh vegetables like carrot, beetroot, peas, mustard green, radish, garlic and beans can be cultivated in the  green houses in rotation with tomatoes. Two successful tomato farmers, Mrs. Kinley Bida and Mrs Ugyen Chenzom are looking forward to grow more tomatoes and increase their profit.

Mrs. Kinley Bida (Left) and Mrs. Ugyen Chenzom (Right): two successful tomato farmers of Haa

 

Mr. Karchung

Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer

Dzongkhag Administration, Haa

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