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Updated: 1 hour 58 min ago

Chencho Dorji ready Sudeva FC for I-League

Tue, 01/05/2021 - 02:03

Thinley Namgay 

The lone Bhutanese international coach, Chencho Dorji is in Kolkata where his club, Sudeva FC will face Kolkata-based Mohammedan Sporting Club in the Hero I-League on January 9.

Chencho Dorji became the head coach in September 2020.

The Delhi-based Sudeva FC is the professional club founded in 2014 and won the bid to participate in the I- League this season for the first time.

Chencho Dorji said: “Mohammedan Sporting Club is one of India’s oldest clubs, but they haven’t played I-league so far. However, they were the champions of B-division I-league last year. Sudeva is ready.”

The 2021 I-league will be different from the previous seasons. All the 11 participating teams will play their games in three centralised stadiums at Kolkata due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation.

Only 21 players and nine officials from each team are allowed to enter the pitch.

“My players are all Indian. We decided not to sign foreign players this season. There are many practice grounds at Kolkata. I hope to compete well,” said Chencho Dorji.

All I-league matches will be broadcast live on 1-sport, and three games will be played daily.

The RoundGlass Punjab FC, which has signed Chencho Gyeltshen last year, will play Aizawl FC, and Gokulum FC will play Chennai City FC on the same day.

“Sudeva FC signed 19 new players. All the new players have featured in the previous Indian Super League. We trained for almost three months,” said Chencho Dorji.

Chencho Dorji hails from Mongar and joined Sudeva FC in November 2019. He became the first Bhutanese coach to be hired by an international football academy in March 2019, when he became a new youth coach for Manipur-based FC Imphal City.

First phase of smart unlocking begins from tomorrow

Tue, 01/05/2021 - 02:02

 

Yangchen C Rinzin

Except for Thimphu and Paro, people of other dzongkhags that are considered green zone would be allowed to move within the dzongkhag from tomorrow, according to the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

The movement would be allowed only on foot except for utility vehicles. Use of public or private vehicles would be considered if urgent.

This means the lockdown is extended for another one week in Thimphu and Paro.

Lyonchhen, while announcing the phase 1 of smart unlocking, said that with cases still emerging from communities in Thimphu and Paro, the two dzongkhags are still considered red zone.

“Other dzongkhag administrations and thromde can have one day to discuss and decide how to implement the relaxation procedures,” Lyonchhen said. “Slowly dzongkhag taskforces can review and decide on additional relaxations.”

The nationwide lockdown has completed 13 days. Thimphu has completed 16 days of lockdown period.

Unavoidable inter-dzongkhag movements will also be allowed in green zones, but only after obtaining approval of dzongkhag taskforces in green zones.

The government has strategised smart unlocking in phase-wise relaxation and area based on randomised nationwide testing of the disease. Dzongkhags have been classified into red, yellow and green zones.

Lyonchhen said that the continuous restriction in Thimphu and Paro would help contain the spread of virus that has been rampant and avoid spike in positive cases. “Additional relaxation in Thimphu and Paro would be made based on the situation and cases detected for next few days.”

However, people stranded in Thimphu and Paro would be allowed to travel to other dzongkhags in emergency cases and the government will facilitate the movement.

Lyonchhen urged people to register with 1010 and e-pass would be issued following which they will have to visit the specified flu clinic for testing.

“The person must also bring a member of the host family for the test. This is to ensure that there is no virus presence in both stranded person and the resident,” Lyonchhen added.

The details of the person travelling will be shared with local leader of the respective destination dzongkhag. After reaching the destination, local authorities will have to put the person for mandatory 7-day home quarantine. Then another antigen test would be conducted after completion of home quarantine.

“We’ve to have strict protocol and cannot be complacent,” Lyonchhen said. “This is to ensure that virus is not spread from Thimphu or Paro to another dzongkhag where there is no case.”

Although other dzongkhags are considered green zone, technical advisory group has not yet declared some areas within dzongkhags as risk free where cases have been detected. These cases are contacts of earlier cases, and travellers from Thimphu and Paro.

With the indication of presence of disease, these areas are considered yellow zone.

The yellow zones are Lhamoidzingkha Throm in Dagana (5 cases), Domkhar and Chamkhar in Bumthang (9 cases), Phenteykha in Punakha (2 cases), Pelela in Wangduephodrang (1 case), Kela in Trongsa (1 case) and, Katsho and Uesu gewogs in Haa (1 case).

The movement in the yellow zone would be limited to only cardholders. Emergency cases to travel out of the yellow zone will require clearance from the respective taskforce. The travellers must undergo RT-PCR test.

Non-essential shops in yellow zone must remain closed including the construction works. Taskforce will then decide additional relaxations.

People from other dzongkhags will be allowed to travel to yellow zone.

Meanwhile, in the phase 2, which would be implemented after seven days, the health ministry will conduct a randomised sample testing to access the situation in all districts, following which, Lyonchhen said that additional relaxations would be announced.

The 7-day quarantine requirement while travelling from high-risk area will continue.

With 18 cases detected yesterday, there are total of 734 positive cases including 277 local cases. There were 281 active cases and 453 recovered as of yesterday.

Govt. explores India’s support in procuring Oxford vaccine

PM assures vaccine procurement but says not to pin all hopes on the vaccines

Younten Tshedup

Bhutan’s access to the Covid-19 vaccine may not be the COVAX Facility alone. It emerged yesterday that the government was also in discussion with the Government of India to procure the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering last evening said that amidst the global demand for the vaccines that have received the emergency use authorisation (EUA), Bhutan, like many other countries, was expecting support from neighbouring India.

India on Sunday approved the EUA for two Covid-19 vaccines — Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Covaxin, the country’s first indigenous vaccine.

Lyonchhen said that although about four vaccines had currently received the EUA and were approved for public use, in the present scenario, it was difficult to procure the vaccines used in the US and other European countries.

He said that this was mainly because of the high demand and limited production capacity of the manufacturers. “We have communicated with all of them and they have assured their support as well.”

However, he said that given logistics aspects including the cost, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was the ideal candidate for Bhutan for now. 

This was also because India locally manufactured the vaccine under the name Covishield.

The world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, Serum Institute of India, locally manufactures the Covishield vaccine and is capable of producing around 50 million doses in a month.

Lyonchhen said that India would soon start administering the vaccine among their population, and it was hoped that Bhutan too would receive some dosages as it began. For this, extensive studies and budget for the procurement were all worked out, he added.

The prime minister said that on the command of His Majesty The King, about seven months ago, health experts and the government started working on the vaccine procurement modalities. “Extensive discussions have taken place on this matter.”

He said that because the vaccines were newly developed, there were no existing procurement strategies or a regulation guide on the side effects of such vaccines, should there be any.

He said that the government has completed developing a procurement strategy and regulations to monitor the side effects of the vaccine, including a distribution strategy as and when the vaccines arrive.

“We would require at least a million dosages to vaccinate all the people in the country and not just the Bhutanese citizens,” he said. “And if we don’t get the required quantity at once, we have prioritised who would get it first.”

Health and frontline workers would be the first to receive the vaccines including security personnel and volunteers working during the pandemic. Around 80,000 people have been line-listed in this group.

The next batch of recipients would include elderlies with pre-existing medical conditions. Active population including public transportation drivers would be in the next group, before administering the vaccine to the general population.

All logistical arrangements were in place, said Lyonchhen. However, he said that pinning all hopes on the vaccine would be unwise.

“Even if we get the vaccine, the worry is on the level of protection it would provide,” he said. “The government will ensure the procurement of vaccines, but its effectiveness and the extent of protection is still a question.”

Meanwhile, experts in India have raised concerns over India’s EUA approval of the Covaxin, the country’s first indigenous vaccine against Covid-19, before the completion of trials.

Experts say that there were concerns arising from the absence of the efficacy data from Phase III trials and lack of transparency.

However, Indian authorities have assured that the vaccine was safe and “provided a robust immune response.”

Unlocking process to begin soon

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:17

… draft of the National Covid-19 Taskforce decision leaked on social media

Yangchen C Rinzin

After days of meetings on how best to lift the lockdown, the National Covid-19 taskforce led by the Prime Minister is mostly like to announce its decision today or latest by tomorrow.

As of yesterday evening, copies of the draft of its decision were circulating in many of the groups on social media.

According to Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering the taskforce would finalise the draft today.

The government has received much flak in the last few days for the lack of communication on the smart unlocking of lockdown.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that there was no confusion because the lockdown continues until the government issued an order to discontinue it.

“Until the government announces otherwise or specified, it will still be considered as a lockdown,” Lyonchhen said. “People expect the government to announce separately that it is still under lockdown, but until any further order, people must consider this as a lockdown.”

Lyonchhen said that with more cases every day, the National Covid-19 Taskforce was carefully studying the situation to ensure transmission does not spread across countries.

“We’ve to weigh pros and cons before coming up with the decision and the team is meeting time and again. We want to be absolutely sure that there’ll be no rampant outbreak,” Lyonchhen said.

The government is still yet to finalise the unlocking process.   

The second lockdown was first announced for Thimphu thromde on December 20 after the first local Covid-19 outbreak. Following the detection of more cases, the government enforced a nationwide seven-day lockdown on December 23.

The lockdown was to discourage people from gathering to avoid spreading of the virus and break the chain of transmission.

The nationwide lockdown, as announced by the Prime Minister Office (PMO) on December 29 was extended until the “festivities of new year and Nyilo,” and after which smart unlocking process was to be initiated.

However, many criticised the government on not providing clarity or concrete decision on the unlocking process. Some claimed that the notification from PMO did not mention how long will the lockdown be and when the final decision would be made.

Many were in favour of extending the lockdown given the rampant positive Covid-19 cases reported every day in Thimphu and Paro. Others say the government should implement the unlocking process in other dzongkhags where there are no community cases reported.

Many residents said that if it was going to be extended, the government should have told people it would extend indefinitely or until further notice to avoid confusion.

A Thimphu resident said that the lockdown technically completed on January 2 unless the government had announced the lockdown would continue.

“It’s good that people did not come onto the streets thinking lockdown was over. If the government has given clear instruction on the extension, people wouldn’t protest.”

The National Covid-19 Taskforce along with zoning team and technical advisory group are still in the process of reviewing modalities to ease the nationwide lockdown.

Since the first outbreak on December 20, the country has seen 260 cases so far, including local transmission cases.

After four days of zero positive cases from the communities, five cases emerged from the communities of Thimphu again in the last two days. It includes a resident who had tested positive at the flu clinic yesterday and was bound for travel outside Thimphu.

Lyonchhen said that lockdown and unlocking cannot be pre-announced and that it would depend on the situation. “Positive cases are still coming with outbreaks in different areas.”

The unlocking process would be carried out region, dzongkhag, zone and also activity-wise, based on epidemiological indicators that the team will gather.

On the unlocking of the region where there are no cases reported, Lyonchhen said there should be qualifying criteria to be sure there is no case.

He said that in such a situation, the taskforce needed 14 days, which is the incubation period, to conduct a thorough study. “We still have a few more days to complete this period in the regions. What if we’ve undetected cases? We can’t take the risk.”

Farmers contribute vegetables

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:17

Chimi Dema | Tsirang     

The farmers from Drujeygang gewog in Dagana donated about 2.4 metric tonnes of vegetables to the government as of January 1.

The vegetables were for distribution to frontline workers in Thimphu.

The chairperson of the Thuenpa Puenzhi Soenam Detsen, a farmer’s group in the gewog, Tshering Tashi, said the contribution was made in appreciation to the frontline workers for their hard work and sacrifices during the pandemic.

“Realising the shortages of vegetables in Thimphu amid the nationwide lockdown, it is felt important that we contribute little of what we grow,” he said.

Meanwhile, farmers from Phuentenchu gewog in Tsirang contributed two Bolero pickup truckloads of vegetables for frontline workers in the dzongkhag on December 31.

Sergithang-based Nuggo Farmers’ Product also contributed about one metric tonne of vegetables and six cartoons of eggs for frontline workers recently.

Besides, individuals and the business community in the dzongkhag have been contributing goods as a token of gratitude to frontline workers since the first nationwide lockdown.

BKP calls for Covid-19 vaccination master plan

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:16

MB Subba      

Bhutan Kuen-Nyan Party (BKP) yesterday called for a Covid-19 vaccination master plan for the country.

The party issued a press release yesterday, where the president-in-charge, Sonam Tobgay, stated that DNT government could not realise any advance purchasing agreement for the vaccine until now.

He said that 15 vaccine companies had completed the third trial of Covid-19 vaccines and the government had failed to inform the Bhutanese citizens about any diplomatic notes sent to countries or companies to procure the vaccine on time.

Sonam Tobgay said that an effective and smart government should be aiming beyond the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX (vaccination programme) which inoculate 20 percent of each country’s population. “Under this global compact, Bhutan will only receive a little over 100,000 vaccines leaving the majority of its citizens uncovered.”

However, foreign minister, Dr Tandi Dorji, said the government since May 2020 has been pursuing the vaccine with countries that are manufacturing the vaccines through Bhutanese embassies. “We are in constant touch with governments and manufacturing companies on our vaccine requirements.”

He said the health ministry had already developed two vaccine deployment guidelines. “The foreign ministry has also developed a vaccine procurement strategy for the country.”

“We are tracking the progress of more than 103 vaccines that are being developed currently,” the foreign minister said. “Bharat Biotech, Pfizer and Moderna are among the vaccines whose data were available.”

Dr Tandi Dorji said that while the WHO’s COVAX programme would guarantee vaccine coverage for 20 percent of a country’s population, the government was trying for coverage of the total population of Bhutan.

Meanwhile, BKP president-in-charge said that with no explanation to citizens of Bhutan as to how the Bhutan Telecom Ltd. employee (uncle of the girl who tested positive) acquired the coronavirus, the country is suddenly mired in an unexpected community transmission with epicentres in Thimphu and Paro resulting to a second national lockdown.

“DNT has fallen back on its promise in a panic-driven issuance of a second national lockdown despite His Majesty’s command to minimize inconvenience to the public. The decision was driven by the record of thousands of people having travelled out of Thimphu to all districts and corners of Bhutan,” the press release stated.

Sonam Tobgay said that export of the virus out of Thimphu, which has always had the highest probability of a high community transmission rate, could have been prevented if the vehicle movements were subject to tests of all the travellers before travelling out of Thimphu.

The press release accused the DNT government of failing to display transparency on a probable request made to India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, and other reliable suppliers.

The BKP said that allowing people simply to move out of their districts by registering vehicles and passengers without a test is red tape at its zenith with the value of pointing out who had gone where after the event at best. “Hopefully, henceforth DNT will make it mandatory for all travellers out of Thimphu and other risky areas to produce a negative test certificates before travelling out of the most vulnerable communities generally at the cost of the travellers except for the most economically challenged applicants.”

Two arrested for breach of lockdown protocols

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:15

Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha     

Police in Punakha arrested two men from Kabisa gewog for breaching lockdown protocols on December 30.

The men, a 55-year-old and 50-year-old, allegedly arrived in Lungtenkha village in Kabisa gewog on December 25 without informing authority. Police received a complaint about them on December 28.

Sources said the men came to Thimphu on December 19 to attend a court case, but after hearing about the nationwide lockdown on December 20, they parked the Maruti Van they drove in Dechencholing and walked to Punakha.

They walked for five hours via Sinchula and reached Kabisa in Punakha.

It was learnt that they decided to walk home as they didn’t have anyone they knew in Thimphu to seek shelter.

Once they reached Punakha, the 50-year-old man stayed with the 55-year-old man at Tongshina for three nights. After his stay, he returned to Kabisa on December 24, claiming he informed the emergency health service.

The medical surveillance team conducted rapid antigen test for both men and they tested negative.

Police officials said they would forward the case to court, charging the due for criminal nuisance and breach of public order and tranquillity under the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004.

As cases increase further lockdown is best

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:14

Bhutan’s second lockdown experience has been by far better than the last. What is evident is that the nation’s preparedness has improved, say, by leaps and bounds. But there is more to do together as a nation. When there are growing questions from the public as to when the lockdown would be opened, the lack of clarity from the organisations and offices responsible can add to the confusion. There may be bureaucratic and other reasons for the lack of clarity but it must be made clear, at least for some days to come, that lockdown must continue.

There have been inconveniences, although not immediately after the announcement of the second lockdown. More will come the way we seem to treat the threats facing us today. There are many who understand the dangers of opening up or easing the lockdown too soon just as many who do not. There is today a yawning gap in our attempts to appreciate the true magnitude of the problem — challenge — which must be addressed. Sooner it is done, the better. Caving in to the demands of individual comfort and selfishness can throw a spanner in all our efforts to contain the virus from spreading further.

We have arrangements for emergency travel. The people who cannot avoid travelling because he or she has to be someplace else for whatever it is there to succeed, travel arrangements are being facilitated and will remain so. Many have taken the advantage of this provision. Many more could do so for reasons that are officially and personally unnecessary, which could only help the virus spread in the communities. Is there a clear system of checks and balances in place? That’s the question. Every official on duty, wherever they are and in whatever capacity, must ensure that the larger interest of the country and the safety of the public is taken care of.

There is a growing demand from the people that the lockdown be lifted but we must not repeat the same mistake we made after the first lockdown. There will be pressures from various corners to open the lockdown, of course, but we must not lose sight of the implications of our small, careless actions. Covid-19 positives cases being detected on an almost daily basis. On January 2, there were three positive cases from the high-risk clusters — from the areas where there have been cases before. On December 3, two positive cases were detected from the flu clinics. In what is truly a thing of wonder and to be concerned about is that both the cases had no contact with the positive cases.

What we know from all this is that the community transmission of Covid-19 virus that we have discovered may be just the tip of an iceberg. We are also aware of the mutations it has taken since the discovery of the virus itself. While we wait for the vaccines to arrive, which could take a very long time, our best bet would be to contain the rapidity of community transmission of the pandemic by whatever means possible. In the kind of situation we are in today, extension of lockdown is by far the best option.

Boulder export from Gelephu lowest in 2020

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:13

Nima| Gelephu

Gelephu has exported over 500 truckloads of boulder worth Nu 8 million since March 2020.

Additional 600 trucks of boulder were exported to India and Bangladesh after the export resumed two months back. However, only over 20 trucks of boulder were exported to Bangladesh to date.

Samtse exported the highest, over 11,800 truckloads of boulders, followed by Phuentsholing, more than 10,400 trucks of boulder till December.

The export is yet to pick up in Gelephu. Mostly aggregates were exported to the neighbouring State of Assam in India.

The export to Bangladesh is yet to pick with the route being the main problem, according to the exporters.

General Secretary of Bhutan Export Association (BEA), Tshering Yeshi, said the export of boulders was operated in slightly different ways in three different dzongkhags. The export couldn’t begin as expected and the pandemic disrupted the trade.

There are 67 registered exporters in Gelephu but only 15 are active, of which 12 exported boulders to India and only three to Bangladesh.

“These are signs that showed the export was not good. This was because of the exporters having to cross two Indian States while exporting boulders. This is the main problem concerning the exporters,” he said.

He added that the association in consultation with relevant stakeholders is gearing to open new trade routes, in addition to four new trade points at Nagarkata, Agartala, Jogighopa, and Pandu to fasten the boulder export from Gelephu.

The trade route from Jogighopa would be a major boost for the exporters in Gelephu. However, building the required infrastructure at the riverine port is expected to take time.

Tshering Yeshi said it was difficult for the exporters to resume the trade if the boulder export rate is to be increased with lots of incidental expenses involved in the course of business.

A study conducted by the revenue intelligence division found that there were incidents of misreported taxes. This was because the exporters could not get valid documents for their expenses across the border.

“Those expenses were non-deductible as per the standing income and tax laws. The net income got flattened. Therefore, to offset the expenses the exporters might have resorted to under invoices,” Karma from the revenue intelligence division said.

An incidental expense that would help exporters meet expenditures involved during the shipment was proposed. This would enable the exporters to include their expenses as a deductible amount without having to produce a valid document.

An estimated incidental expense from exporters in Samtse, Phuentsholing, and Gelephu was collected. And it would be forwarded to the government, according to the officials from the ministry of economic affairs.

Export permit or certificate proposed

In absence of standard licensing regulation for boulder export, there were reports of revenue leakages, misdeclarations, and the need to have export permit regulation.

The start of boulder export in 2018 in three southern dzongkhags attracted individual firm owners to take up this new lucrative business in Samtse, Phuentsholing, and Gelephu.

Today, any individual or firm with a valid licence was allowed to undertake export and there is no separate export licence for goods allowed to export, as documented in the economic development policy 2016.

The exporters said this distorted the export course and caused disharmony among them. Officials from the department of trade said that it was hurting the entire business environment.

However, few exporters maintained the need to respect the liberal regulations for the benefit of the private sectors.

Bhutan Export Association also reported to the Southern Covid-19 taskforce that illegal activities were happening in the absence of a licensing or permit system in the export.

The export permit system is expected to allow only competent exporters to export, standardize the export business, ensure proper collection of data and information, help collection of taxes and minimize fronting and misuse of export documents.

Director general with the department of trade, Sonam Tenzin, said it would be a comprehensive approach to addressing fronting.

“It’s taken up seriously along all southern borders. Now that the parliament has come up with a new penal provision, our people should be mindful of fronting,” he said.

The officials also informed the exporters to come forward if they have any doubt of the misreported tax in the past years.

The study conducted by the revenue intelligence division suspected some incidents of misreported tax declarations.

“This is to improve compliance. Going by the percentage there is more case of tax leakages here. The exporters would be given a dateline to verify their misreported declarations,” said Karma.

When the exporters and the officials from the department of revenue and customs, department of trade and BEA met in Gelephu last month, the need to rebuild the image of export in Gelephu and to streamline the trade was discussed.

Farmers and vendors unhappy with vegetable price

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:12

Phurpa Lhamo  | Punakha     

While consumers complain about soaring vegetable prices amid the second nationwide lockdown, vendors and farmers claim they are running into loss because of decrease in vegetable price.

In Kabisa gewog’s Sirigang-Wakoo-Damchi chiwog, all 150 households engage in vegetable cultivation. Farmers are, however, disappointed with the sale of their products in recent days.

According to chiwog tshogpa Kinley, farmers were forced to sell their produce to avoid it rotting in the villages.

He said farmers sold broccoli and cauliflower for Nu 50 and Nu 80. “This is a decrease from Nu 100 for broccoli and Nu 150 for cauliflower prior to the lockdown.”

While farmers are aware of the approved purchase price issued by the agriculture ministry, farmers claim vendors bargain over the price.

In Barp gewog, farmer Kinley said that although spinach was supposed to fetch Nu 20, he sold his at Nu 10. “Except for radish, the prices for other available vegetables were decreased by Nu 10 and Nu 20.”

However, spinach, corianders, and spring onions aren’t sold at more than Nu 15 in Wangdue and Punakha markets. These produce are sold mostly at Nu 10.

This is a decrease from Nu 30, the allocated retail price by the agriculture ministry.

Vendors have their own claim.

A Bajo vendor, Pema Choden, claimed that spinach she bought at Nu 15 was sold at Nu 10 as she feared the produce would be damaged.

With transportation and loading charges, the vendors said they were running the business in loss.

Another vendor, Lhakpa Dema, said that during the first lockdown, vendors did receive dzongkhag vehicles to buy vegetables from the farmers.  Today, vendors move within gewogs collecting vegetables.

“We do follow the office of consumer protection (OCP) rate. There are officials in town and also in gewog to oversee the sale and pricing,” she said.

Vendors complain that while vegetables bought in bundles fetched at least Nu 5 profit, they do not profit from vegetables bought in sacks.

A vegetable vendor at Lobesa, Thinley Choden, said she had to dispose most vegetables, as there were no buyers.

She said that she had not received any returns for what she had invested in the past weeks. “People still say the vegetable prices are high.”

She said she bought chillies (big) for Nu 6,000 a sack. “A sack should weigh 20kg but it was always short of a kilogramme or two. We also have to pay for the vehicle charges and then the plastics as well.”

Small businesses in P/Ling eyeing tax exemption 

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:12

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing     

Those operating micro and small businesses in Phuentsholing Thromde say that the pandemic has caused huge losses to their businesses and the government should to extend tax exemptions.

The finance ministry exempted the Business Income Tax (BIT) for small and micro-businesses located and operating outside four dzongkhag thromdes and dzongkhag throms last week. Phuentsholing shopkeepers being in the class A thromde would not be eligible for the exemptions.

Shopkeepers say the movement restrictions during the two nationwide lockdowns have reduced their business drastically since the number of visitors to the town slumped, and payment of house rents without businesses have hit their businesses hard.

One grocery owner, Kelzang Thinley said, “Although it is good the government has done away with the tax to the rural businesses, our businesses are equally affected.”

Usually, the business in Phuentsholing was doing well. He also said there were many costs while importing, which worsened the already poor business.

Another shopkeeper, Sujata Chhetri said there were some businesses that were not much affected.

“But for us, small ones, even paying the rent has been difficult,” she said. “And there are many small and micro-businesses in the town.”

She said the problem is the same with shops within thromde and outside thromdes.

A restaurant owner, Amrit Tamang said that it is unfair that some are given tax exemption and others are not.

“Most shops in the thromde have remained closed,” he said.

He said that instead, shops outside thromde were operating better this time.

“It would be better to give tax exemption to all small businesses in the country. Otherwise, don’t give to any.”

The proprietor of packaging and carry bags manufacturing (small) company in Pasakha, Karma Namgyel was uncertain how the tax would impact his business.

“I haven’t yet finished closing the accounts,” he said, adding that his company most likely incurred loss, which means he need not pay taxes.

Karma Namgyel said that his company started only in January 2020 and went into production for just two months. There is no sale at all, he added.

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s regional secretary in Phuentsholing, Sangay Dorji said if the exemption was provided because of the pandemic, then micro and small businesses in Phuentsholing have been equally affected.

“A few cottage industries have completely shut down as well due to labour shortage,” he said. 

“The new startups have also been affected.”

He said that the exemption would help them too.

Meanwhile, this exemption of the tax for micro and small businesses mostly in the rural areas will be applicable until December 31, 2024.

There are more than 23,000 registered small and micro-businesses in the country, of which 12,400 are in rural areas.

Cluster sweeping in Shaba completes

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:10

Phub Dem      

Paro recorded 57 Covid-19 positive cases, including two returnees, since the dzongkhag detected the first case on December 22.

Following the detection of the first community transmission in Shaba gewog, most of the cases emerged in the area.

The health surveillance team completed two-day cluster sweeping in Shaba on January 2. The cluster surveillance detected two positive cases which were contacts of previous cases.

So far, 47 cases were detected in Shaba cluster. Of that, 19 cases were seen from the first mass testing on December 23.

According to Dzongkhag Health Officer Choki Wangmo, every household member was tested for the virus for early detection.

During the first mass testing, the surveillance team carried out tests on a member from each household, contacts of the positive cases, and those with flu-like symptoms.

Shaba gewog has around 700 households, and 1,500 residents were tested during the cluster sweeping.

The tests including frontliners, those with symptoms, others with a travel history and the contacts, Choki Wangmo said that the testing covered 10 gewogs.

She said that random testing was carried out in low-risk areas such as Bondey, Wangchang and Paro town. “Locals who have travel history and flu-like symptoms in Naja and Dogar gewogs were also tested.”

During the press briefing yesterday, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that Paro conducted more than 12,000 tests so far.

In the meantime, mobile teams were conducting tests on people with symptoms and contacts.

Community transmission still active in Thimphu

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 02:09

Younten Tshedup

After recording no positive cases from the community for four straight days, positive cases from the flu clinics and communities have re-emerged in the past two days.

Of the six new cases detected last night, two were from the flu clinics in Thimphu. A resident of Dechencholing who had visited the flu clinic at Nima High School tested positive yesterday.

Another individual, a resident of Debsi also tested positive from the flu clinic at Changlimithang parking area. The special flu clinic was set up to test those travelling outside Thimphu and abroad.

On January 2, three individuals tested positive from the high-risk cluster testing in Thimphu. The high-risk cluster testing is conducted in clusters where positive cases have been detected earlier.

These individuals had no direct contact with those who had tested positive earlier. Similarly, those cases picked from the flu clinics also do not have any direct interaction with the previously detected cases.

This could mean that 15 days after the locking down the capital city, there is still active transmission of the virus in the community. This also reduces the probability of unlocking the capital city as it enters its third week of lockdown.  

So far, majority of the positive cases after the lockdown have been limited to the close contacts of cases detected earlier. As of last night, of the 260 new cases detected since December 20, more than 82 percent (214) were close contacts of the positive cases. Twenty-six of them had tested positive during the community screening and 20 from the flu clinics.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that following the detection of the index case, close to 2,600 people were identified as contacts (including contacts of contacts) and quarantined at their respective homes.

Quarantining of the close contacts means that as long as cases continue to emerge from this classification of people, the source of the transmission is identified and contained.

However, when a positive person is picked from a flu clinic or during a mass screening, they are unaware of their infection (no symptoms), thus not classified as a contact of the positive cases. Until the case investigation, these individuals do not have a particular source of infection.

Despite the lockdown, individuals are allowed to come outside in their respective zones. Under this arrangement, there is a possibility that these people could further spread the virus, keeping the community transmission active.

Meanwhile, the outbreak this time has been affecting people of all ages and in a very short span of time. As of yesterday, the virus has infected children as young as 2.5 months old and elders as old as 83 years old.

The 2.5-year-old infant who tested positive on January 2 along with her mother was brought to the hospital with vomiting and loose motion. The baby tested positive while under observation.

Health officials said that as of yesterday, the baby had improved compared to her condition while she was admitted at the isolation ward at the national referral hospital.

Along with her, there are three other infants below the age of one year at the JDWNRH’s isolation ward. All are in stable condition, according to health officials.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that there were also 71 students who had tested positive so far. “Including the 83-year-old, our eldest patient, all are in stable condition with no one requiring the support of a ventilator.”

In Paro, more than 12,000 samples were collected from the communities in 12 gewogs. Majority of the cases in Paro, so far, have been detected from the Shaba area during contract tracing and a few through mass screening.

An official said that the ministry was confident that there was no widespread transmission of Covid-19 in Paro. Randomised mass screening started from December 24 and completed on January 2.

Covid-19 outbreak contained within Thimphu and Paro so far

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:26

… all positive cases in last 96 hours were contacts of those who tested positive earlier 

Younten Tshedup

Thirteen days after the first Covid-19 case outside the quarantine facilities in Thimphu, the country continues to record at least 11 positive cases of Covid-19 daily.

The last 24 hours saw 19 new cases of which 18 were detected among contacts of earlier cases in Thimphu. One was detected in an expat worker who was in quarantine in Samdrupjongkhar.

In less than two weeks, the spread of the virus has been recorded in eight dzongkhags with Thimphu and Paro reporting the highest numbers almost every day.

After recording the highest of 36 local cases in a day on December 25, the average daily detection of positive cases hovers at around 18 cases today.

Of the 243 positive cases detected since December 20, Thimphu and Paro alone recorded more than  91 percent of the total cases. This was also because multiple clusters in the two dzongkhags have reported local transmission of the outbreak.

Local transmission means positive cases detected from the flu clinics and during the mass surveillance and not from contacts of the previously infected individuals.  However, for the last 96 hours, there were no positive cases detected from either of the two sources.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that although positive cases were detected from six other dzongkhags, they were all contacts of those who had tested positive from either Thimphu or Paro. “So far there is no local spread of the virus in these dzongkhags.”

Lyonpo said that besides tracing and testing the close contacts, the ministry was randomly testing all the areas where the infected people had visited in these dzongkhags.

As of yesterday, there were nine positive cases detected in Bumthang, five in Dagana, two in Punakha and once each in Haa, Trongsa, and Wangdue.

In the rest of the 12 dzongkhags, the minister said that strategic screening was ongoing, where mobile individuals (shopkeepers, drivers) were randomly selected and tested. “Our worry was that if we had missed out positive cases in these places. However, none of the individuals has tested positive in these dzongkhags so far.”

Except for Gasa, Trashiyangtse, and Samdrupjongkhar, contacts of positive cases have reached all across the country.

In Thimphu, Lyonpo said that residents of the red buildings (buildings from where positive cases have been detected) would be all tested. Of the 58 red buildings identified, 757 residents in 29 buildings were tested. Only one has tested positive from such a facility so far.

“We would also be conducting cluster sweeping in all localities where there is a concentration of positive cases, particularly in Thimphu and Paro.” 

The ministry so far has conducted over 60,000 RT-PCR and antigen tests since the outbreak of the virus. “Our strategy is aggressive testing, effective tracing and early treatment,” Lyonpo added.

Food prices drive inflation amid Covid-19

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:25

MB Subba  

Prices of goods rose by 7.75 percent in October 2020 compared to the same month in the previous year, the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) reported in its latest CPI report released on December 31, 2021.

The main contributors to the inflation were the increases in the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Price of meat increased by around 30 percent, followed by vegetables over 20 percent and fruits and dairy products by around 15 percent, according to NSB. Prices of betel nuts and betel leaves also increased by 20 percent.

The month-on-month consumer price index (CPI) in October increased by 0.31 percent with food prices increasing by 0.41 percent and non-food by 0.23 percent. Price of alcoholic beverages decreased by 0.92 percent in October compared to that of September.

In the last quarter of 2020, the consumers reported high increases in prices of commodities, especially vegetables and meat items.

Month-on-month inflation trend during the last 12 months

Price of local pork in the market were about Nu 750 per kg in the last quarter of the year, which is about  100 percent increase from the previous year. Similarly, the price of locally produced green chili shot up to Nu 500 per kg in December last year.

Vegetable vendors say the price hike was caused by the high prices charged by farmers at source. They also blame the high cost of transportation due to the Covid-19 situation forcing the price hike.

A vegetable vendor in Thimphu said vegetables and meat products were in short supply. But he said that the prices now were being monitored by officials and that the prices had slightly reduced even in villages from where the goods come from.

The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has asked shopkeepers and vendors not to manipulate the prices of goods during the lockdown. The OCP’s director, Sonam Tenzin, in a notification issued a few days ago stated that shopkeepers must mandatorily displace a price board.

However, transport and communication prices dropped in October by 0.21 percent and 0.19 percent respectively, according to the NSB.

With the increase in the prices, the purchasing power of the Ngultrum (PPN) as measured by CPI is Nu 67 as of October 2020 compared to December 2012. This means, Nu 100 in October 2020 is worth only Nu 67 at December 2012 prices.

The PPN has dropped by 7.19 percent in the past 12 months (from October 2019 to October 2020) due to price increase in the economy.

The CPI is a measure of average price changes in the basket of goods and services purchased by households over time. It shows how much, on average, prices of goods and services have increased or decreased from a particular reference period.

According to NSB, the CPI covers goods and services consumed by households and  samples of goods and services are selected using the household expenditure data to measure the inflation experienced by the households.

Prices of the sampled goods and services are collected from urban areas in 20 dzongkhags on monthly, quarterly and annual frequency depending on the price volatility of the items.

OCP penalises shops for unfair trade practices

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:24

Chhimi Dema 

The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has penalised 33 shops for violating provisions of the consumer protection Act, rules and regulations since the second lockdown.

Four shops have been closed and are not allowed to operate during the lockdown. The licence of two vegetable wholesalers has been recommended for cancellation.

OCP’s chief programme officer, Jigme Dorji, said that the businesses were penalised for an unfair increase in the price of commodities, sale of expired products, underweight goods and other violations.

Chapter III of the Consumer Protection Act 2012 states: “A person shall not mislead the consumers on the price of the goods and services.”

Also, according to the Consumer Protection Rules and Regulations 2015, a service provider, manufacturer and supplier of goods or services shall not unfairly; charge different price; supply different quality; or deny services to the consumers.

Since the first positive case of Covid-19 in the country, OCP imposed Nu 2.313 million as penalties and Nu 0.295 million was refunded to aggrieved consumers.

Jigme Dorji said that the business entities were informed not to take advantage of the situation through various channels of communication such as phone calls, official notification, media and visits to business premises.

“The office will not tolerate any kind of unfair trade practices and stern action will be taken including penalties, closure of shops and cancellation of business licence if necessary,” Jigme Dorji said.

Most of the shop penalised were located in Thimphu.

To ensure fair trade practices, Jigme Dorji said that OCP made surprise inspections. Officials also monitor various social media pages where consumers complaint through their post, he added.

Jigme Dorji said: “OCP ascertains the genuineness of the post and takes appropriate action.”

Due to the lack of manpower, OCP carried out market monitoring activities with the support of local governments.

Jigme Dorji said that about 900 officials from the local governments under direct supervision and guidance of OCP vigorously carried out market monitoring activities in their respective regions.

Consumers are urged to report to OCP through a toll-free number 1214 for any unfair trade practices and to seek redresses or compensations. The consumers are also requested to take due care while purchasing, ask for money receipt, make informed purchase decisions and act in good faith.

Growing our own food

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:23

Not long ago, Bhutanese would have no issues with shortage of fresh vegetables. They knew the harsh winter is no season for green vegetables. They dried and stored vegetables to see through the winter. In other words, they were prepared and secured essentials to last through the dry months.

For about three to four months, the dolom kam, kakuru kam, lom and many other dried vegetables were enough. Few regions grew winter vegetables, but the distance and lack of transportation means it is restricted to the regions that grew vegetables.

Today, the essentials that our parents stored have become delicacies that even the Bhutanese diaspora demands paying huge amounts in shipping them to foreign lands. At home, shortage of vegetables is a huge issue. The restrictions posed by the pandemic have not helped exposing our vulnerabilities.

Since the dry pumpkin or spinach days, our decision makers had been insisting on food self sufficiency. The warmer foothills has the potential to fill the gap. It was recognised and efforts were put in. The efforts, however, are yet to bear fruits.

Winter vegetables from southern dzongkhags, which were supposed to hit the market since December, couldn’t keep up with the demand. There are problems, both natural and manmade. The vagaries of weather are out of our hands, but when shortage of water is hampering production, we see a big problem.

This is happening with all the focus on agriculture like the economic contingency plan budget rolled out in response to Covid-19 pandemic and addressing vegetable shortages in winter.  What is happening, for instance, in Samteling, Gelephu, where lack of water, human wildlife conflict and erratic weather affected winter vegetable production  is a microcosm of the investments made in the whole agriculture business in the country. It also exposes the bare truth of food production, sufficiency and security.

We have ample policies drafted to ensure food security, self sufficiency and poverty reduction programmes since the initiation of planned activities in 1961. We also identified food and nutrition security as a policy objective since the eighth Plan. Then there are numerous other plans, programmes and initiatives.

But we are still heavily dependent on food import, especially from India, including dairy, meat, rice, and vegetables. We import food products worth about Nu 7 billion annually. The Covid-19 pandemic has also revealed how our food sufficiency or security until now meant ensuring food availability and access to food through imports.

The so-called local chilies and bananas vanished from the shelves at Centenary Farmers’ Market when the border gates were closed exposing that we had been hoodwinking ourselves in the name of local produce.

The pandemic gave us an opportunity to rethink and relook at  our plans, policies and strategies. This is, however, not new. We have been saying we need to prioritise growing our own food. It is a shame that we are still saying the same thing.

We need to find out why  farmers who received government support, still face the basic agriculture problems they faced for decades. It’s also time for our specialists in agriculture to implement what they studied to ensure we produce enough.

While we have to produce about 26MT of vegetables for the winter months, our target is to produce about 9MT, leaving a huge gap, which has to be filled with import.

We have learnt during the pandemic that it is basic food or essentials that many are worried about. If we cannot ensure that, something is wrong with our policies or implementation. We have technology, human resources and the urgency. It is now or never. If we can’t grow our own food, as an agrarian society, it will be hard to achieve other things that we are not used to.

As we look forward to a new year, agriculture or food self-sufficiency is one area that we could recommit to.

Mandatory display of prices could solve price crisis

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:22

Despite repeated plea from the public and Consumer Protection Office, there have been numerous reports of shopkeepers charging unreasonable prices besides.  One of the effective remedies may be the mandatory display of prices of every good.   The right to know the price of goods on sale is fundamental to consumer rights.  Recognising this right, sections 4, 7, 8, 9, 30, and 31 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 2012 encapsulated numerous provisions to ensure this right.

First, the law gives the right to consumer to know the prices of the goods. Second, the prices must be competitive wherever possible. Third, the law requires that “goods displayed for sale and, wherever possible shall have the price affixed conspicuously” or a mandate to ensure price tag on the goods. Fourth the law prohibits the sellers or suppliers from misleading indications of price. This includes the requirement to disclose methods to determine the price, the prices determined based on the facts and circumstances of each good and if it reaches the court, the courts have duty to determine the validity of the price by comparing it with other sellers or suppliers or by implied indication.

Fifth, CPA recognises the implied guarantee of price. This means unless there exists an explicit agreement between the seller and buyer or shopkeeper and consumer, the consumer is not liable to pay the supplier more than the reasonable price of the goods. The reasonable price is “not synonymous with the lowest price available in the market nor fair market value”. Reasonable price is aimed to “make sure that the products or services evaluated are sufficiently similar to warrant comparison.”

For example, in India, Maximum Retail Price (M.R.P.) is calculated based on many factors including actual manufacturing cost, profit margin, marketing expenses, retailer margin, GST etc. Therefore, reasonable price means prices based on facts and circumstances such as prices at the source and other expenses.

The law provides such mandates on the suppliers or consumers or sellers because “for most consumers, the price is an important factor in deciding whether to buy goods or services.” This is extremely important in the current situation as many lost their jobs, unable to pay loans, and several struggling to meet the ends.

Article 7 (10) of our Constitution recognises that every Bhutanese “the right to practice any lawful trade, profession or vocation”, yet due to COVID-19 and with the national lockdown, few selected suppliers or sellers are given the opportunity to practice their trade. These few lucky ones must understand that unlike them, the vast majority are deprived of any form of income generation during the lockdown.

The OCP has already catalogued prices for most essential goods based on past many months of market rates. However, the inspection and monitoring of every shop is impossible and the practice of receipt in Bhutan is still new. Thus, the most appropriate redressal mechanism of pricing problem is imposing mandatory display of a price tag on every good or at least a price catalogue visible to consumers.

The mandatory display of prices of goods will benefit both now and future times. It will prevent misleading pricing, misleading advertisements as well as reduce time during shopping. Pricing of goods must be based on reasonable facts and circumstances. While it is understandable that shopkeepers expect no loss, they must charge reasonable prices and not take advantage of the situation.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

New licensing system for HFCs importers under Kigali Amendment

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:21

Henceforth, importers of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) emitting equipment should apply for licence from the National Ozone Unit under the National Environment Commission (NEC).

The new licensing system, which came into force this month,  is according to the requirement of the Kigali amendment on the Montreal Protocol which Bhutan ratified in 2019.

The amendment requires the parties to gradually phase down the production and consumption of HFC.

HFCs are a group of chemicals primarily used for cooling and refrigeration. They are used as refrigerants in appliances such as air conditioner, heat pumps, and refrigerators.

There are 18 HFCs that require licence system listed in the amendment.

An official from NEC, Kunzang Rinzin, said that the new licensing system would look into the quantity of HFCs to be imported, country of supply, port of entry, and end users among others. “This will determine the quantity of HFCs imported in Bhutan annually including the importers and the purpose of these equipment.”

These details will help Bhutan in gradually phasing down the consumption of HFCs as obligated under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, he added.

Currently, there are no records of the import of HCFs emitting equipment.

Kunzang Rinzin said the HFCs were used as an alternative to HCFCs. “The HFCs are non-ozone depleting substance but are potential greenhouse gases.”

The Kigali amendment ratified by 90 countries commits to reduce the production and consumption of HFCs which are used as alternatives to ozone depleting substances  by 80 percent by mid 2040s.

Bhutan has committed to reduce the consumption of HFCs beginning 2024.

Following the ratification of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer and its amendments in 2004, the country stopped consumption of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in 2010. CFCs were used in refrigerants, propellants for aerosols, and foamed plastics.

The country is in the final stages of phasing out HCFCs with 67.5 percent reduced so far. It expects to remove 97.5 percent by 2025.

The global implementation of the Kigali Amendment is expected to prevent up to 80 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of emissions by 2050, making a significant contribution to the Paris Agreement objective of limiting the global temperature rise to well below 2°C.

First Bhutanese language school down under 

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:21

hub Dem 

The first Bhutanese Language School in Perth is expected to open beginning July this year.

Australia is a major foreign destination for Bhutanese seeking to study, work, and live.

According to a press release from the EducationPro, more than 17,000 Bhutanese live across different parts in Australia with the majority concentrated in Perth.

It states that around 500 Bhutanese children attend schools in Perth alone, as children above five years have to attend school.

Australia provides the opportunity for Bhutanese to live in a foreign country, exposing them to a multi-cultural, high-tech society. However, without a proper school, Bhutanese children are often deprived of learning the national language, Dzongkha.

According to the founder of EducationPro, Tandin Dorji, the parents do not have specific training or time to tutor their children personally.

“In the long run, this will have significant consequences on the youths and the country’s national objective of promoting and preserving the national language and culture,” he said.

It was found the parents face challenges in reintegrating their children once in Bhutan due to weak proficiency in Dzongkha.

“The children either lose a year, or they have to repeat because of poor language skills,” he said.

Considering the learning gap of Bhutanese children living and studying in Australia, the Bhutanese Language School is expected to be the leading centre of Bhutanese Language and Cultural studies with innovative programs.

The school will be offering a standard curriculum from Pre-primary to tenth grade as per the guidelines of the Royal Education Council and education ministry.

Furthermore, it will provide structured language development courses at foundational, introductory, intermediary and advanced levels.

The press release states that the school aspires to evolve into a cultural centre which will also serve as the contact for Australian citizens and foreigners, facilitating cultural exchange and promotion of Bhutanese culture and tradition to a broader global audience.

Tandin Dorji said that trained, qualified and experienced Bhutanese tutors within Australia would be recruited to deliver the programs and courses.

If this project in Perth succeeds, the team would explore options to run similar schools in other parts of Australia.

The firm claims to have raised a million-dollar investment from share capital.

In the meantime, the school will conduct a month-long seminar with 20 Dzongkha language experts to set the curriculum’s standards.

The school is founded by Tandin Dorji and Chencho Dorji a Bhutanese Actor.

Kuenlay Gyeltshen popularly known as Tolly will be the school’s research director with his experience as a Language and Cultural Institute’s proprietor in the country.

Pam farmers pinning theirs hopes on early variety potato

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 03:19

Neten Dorji| Trashigang

Farmers in Trashigang Pam are busy preparing to grow profitable early variety potato, which can ready for harvest 30 percent faster than other varieties.

The early variety remains in the market for a short time and is normally sold at Nu 25 to 30 per kg.

And this year, farmers believe the price will be as high as Nu 35 per kg.

“This variety is highly priced and very popular among buyers because of its early availability,” said, Sherub Lhamo, a farmer.

Traditionally, potato is usually planted in early November and harvested by early March.

The early variety potato is planted in November but this year, because of lockdown and late arrival of seeds, planting was delayed by almost three weeks.

Another farmer, Karma Lhadon, said she planted 22 bags of early variety potato. “I expected around 120 bags of potato this season.”

The people of Pam started growing the early variety potato since 1980 and has been a lucrative business for the farmers.

Ugyen Lhadon, a farmer, makes about Nu 150,000 every year from this variety of potato.

Chagzam-Pam Tshogpa, Gayley Wangchuk, said that variety potato has no market issue. “The buyers come at the doorsteps of the farmers.”

A minimum of five bags of potato seeds is distributed to farmers by the gewog administration.

The farmers sold more than 36 metric tonnes of potatoes in Thimphu and other dzongkhags last year.

According to the tshogpa, about 60 households in the chiwog were involved in growing this variety of potato.

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