Khengrig Namsum Cooperative (KNC)

A successful agricultural cooperative in Zhemgang, central part of southern Bhutan
Thinley (r.) together with Friends of Bhutan

On 30 September 2023, Mr Thinley Wangdi, chairman of the Khengrig Namsum Cooperative (KNC), visited the Friends of Bhutan Association in Vienna *. He reported on his work in the Cooperative, which he founded 9 years ago after having promised his father not to leave his ancestral home in remote Kheng Bardo and not to let the land fall fallow. Thinley quit his good job as an employee in the capital Thimphu and started the Cooperative with 16 young farmers.

Building a sustainable market for agricultural products

KNC works closely together with farmers in the entire  district to build a sustainable market for their agricultural produce. Today, the Cooperative has 230 members. The climatic conditions for cultivation are favourable. Cereals such as maize and rice thrive, as do vegetables and fruit. Even bananas and watermelons grow there. However, the remoteness of the district and the widely scattered, remote settlements make it difficult for individual farmers to sell their surplus crops beyond the local market. “A cooperative is a must under these conditions,” says Thinley Wangdi.

Value creation through processing

KNC buys fresh vegetables, fruit and eggs from farmers not only to be sold to local schools and monasteries, but also to hospitals and municipal markets. The Cooperative also adds value by processing the produce, for example into pickles and various dried products such as bamboo shoots, dried fruit and spices. Turmeric has even been exported to Europe and South East Asia.

Combating poverty and rural exodus

According to the Poverty Analysis Report 2022, the Zhemgang district has one of the highest poverty rates in Bhutan at 41.4%.  Many young people therefore see no future in traditional agriculture and migrate to the city or emigrate abroad. The rural exodus is not only a problem for demographic development in rural regions, but also for Bhutan’s national budget, as a large proportion of the food needed in the country now has to be imported from India, increasing the trade deficit. One of the central goals of the Bhutanese government’s five-year plan is therefore to improve the livelihoods and production capacities in rural areas, increase agricultural productivity and transform subsistence farming into targeted, commercial agriculture. The Khengrig Namsum Cooperative has made a decisive and so far very successful contribution to this.

*Thinley Wangdi spent two months in Salzburg, Upper Austria and Lower Austria in the summer of 2023. He took part in a farmers’ exchange organised by our sister association Bhutan Network.