Zhemgang Cooperative Uplifted with Cutting-Edge Food Lab Technology

In a significant stride towards advancing agricultural capabilities and bolstering economic growth, the Handicrafts Association of Bhutan (HAB) handed over cutting-edge food lab technology to the Khengrig Namsum Cooperatives (KNC) in Zhemgang. The simple yet impactful handover ceremony took place in Thimphu today.

Zhemgang Dzongkhag, identified as one of the economically challenged regions in Bhutan with a poverty rate of 29.4%, has been presented with an opportunity for transformation. The district, boasting a population of 17,763, is characterized by the potential for agricultural production, with 49.6% of its residents engaged in farming, including 58.7% women and 41.1% men, as per the Labour Force Survey Report, 2019.

Despite being a hub for various crops and vegetables, Zhemgang faces a staggering crop waste issue of up to 80%, primarily due to the absence of market access and post-harvest technologies. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock’s (MoAL) initiatives for semi-commercialization through farmer-groups and primary cooperatives development have encountered challenges, notably the lack of technical expertise in food processing.

Motivated by these challenges, HAB proactively sought technical solutions, leading to the procurement of advanced food lab technologies. Khengrig Namsum Cooperatives (KNC), a community group registered with HAB, with over 60% women members, is set to leverage these technologies to process agricultural products efficiently, addressing the issue of excessive waste.

KNC, with 16 core members and 260 households collaborating as farmers from all eight Gewogs in Zhemgang, is a pioneer cooperative engaged in basic food processing such as pickles, banana chips, and turmeric powder. The infusion of new food lab technology will elevate their processing capabilities, ensuring adherence to national and international quality standards.

Chorten Dorji, the Executive Director at HAB, expressed enthusiasm for contributing to the growth of Khengrig Namsum Cooperatives. “This initiative aligns with our commitment to fostering sustainable practices and ensuring the highest quality standards among grassroots producers and local products in Bhutan. It will undoubtedly lead to better livelihoods and income generation for the farmers.”

“We are grateful for the support from the Australian Development Agency and the Handicrafts Association of Bhutan. This advanced food lab technology will be a game-changer for us, enabling us to produce high-quality, safe food products that meet international standards,” said Thinley Wangdi, Founder and Chairperson of KNC. “Our Cooperative will now be able to capitalize on our agro-products by using the food lab technology through value-addtion.”

The food lab technology was procured with 80% of the funding provided by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and a 20% equity contribution from HAB. The ADA’s significant funding support underscores the commitment to fostering global partnerships and contributing to the socio-economic development of Bhutan. The collaboration aims to empower local cooperatives and enhance their capabilities in food processing and quality control.

The food lab equipment handed over to KNC includes a sterilizer, homogenizer, pasteurizer, grinder, vacuum packaging machine, refractometer, PH-meter, salinity meter, acidity titration kit, measuring cylinders, beakers, spatula, thermometer, homogenizer lab scale, freeze dryer and other accessories.