Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Samden Coffee Won't be Smelt For a While

Samden coffee won’t be smelt for a while

Villagers work on coffee saplings in the nursery

Had everything gone as planned, Bhutan would have had its first homegrown coffee in the market by this time.
However, Samden coffee plantation had to “downscale” its operations since 2012 because of lack of funds, as project officials claimed.

It means the company based in Hangay under Sipsu gewog in Samtse has temporarily suspended operations.  It was not shut down as many villagers speculated, officials clarified.
Otherwise, its general manager, Hemant Gurung, said, by the end of 2013, they should have processed the coffee to make available in the market by 2014.

“But we had to suspend because there was no fund to carry out the project,” he said. “We were also delayed because of the bureaucratic procedures involved to acquire land in Sipsu.”

Hemant Gurung said the project had to be suspended after financial institutions stopped giving loans, and a ban was imposed on vehicle import following rupee situation in the country.

“We inaugurated the project in mid 2011,” he said. “But by the time we were ready to take up the work by 2012, country was hit with rupee crunch.”

He said the project’s “sister company”, Samden and Hyundai Automobile, were the ones that sponsored the project.  The economic situation had hampered the company that started running into loss.

Meanwhile, with the government recently approving lease of 260 acres of reserved forestland at Kalimati and Sasboti in Hangay village, the project is expected to pick up.

A memorandum of understanding was signed with agriculture ministry.

Hemant Gurung said, once the project was completed, it would benefit local communities, because farmers have already been distributed with coffee saplings since 2011, which they would sell to the plantation under “buy-back guarantee scheme”.

“Then we’ll have our own processing unit to produce coffee,” he said. “We’ll also market and export the coffee.”

It was projected that a kilogram of coffee beans would fetch a farmer about Nu 20,000 a month for coffee plantation on a five-acre land.  The project had imported 100kg of Arabica coffee beans from Nepal in 2009, while 15 percent were beans grown locally.

The general manager said they have distributed about 6,000 coffee saplings to eight chiwogs in Sipsu. “We failed to distribute to other gewogs we targeted, all because of budget constraints,” he said.

In 2012, the project had to retrench some workers, who were mostly villagers from Sipsu hired to hoe weeds, look after plant nursery and to put manure.

“We had to retrench almost 220 villagers, because of insufficient work and fund,” Hemant Gurung said. “But we had meeting with the villagers and we’ll take them back once the situation improves.”

With the project working “internally” to get fund, they are hopeful that work would resume by January end.
“If this fund comes through, we’ll start the work,” general manager said, adding that way, they would be able to market the coffee by 2015 or 2016.

He also said the fund was important, because coffee needed constant organic fertiliser and water. “We haven’t been able to provide, so some coffee plants are drying up.”

With Sipsu being susceptible to wild elephant rampages every year, locals, who have grown coffee, said they saw the plantation lucrative since they observed that wild elephants showed no interest in coffee plants.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Sipsu  (Kuensel)

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