[We Care, We Share] Inspiring story: Rising to the challenge

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UN and JICA Bhutan’s joint initiative- Resilience tools for COVID-19

Rising to the challenge

A few days ago, a familiar smell of risen bread had replaced the post-lockdown atmosphere along Changzamtog lane. Joti was returning home from work and recognised the strong scent from afar. In the past, it was a routine for Joti to buy fresh unsliced bread from the bakery itself. But this year, save for some evenings, the air gave off a bland smell and often the bakery was closed shut.

The shortage of flour has become a concern among most bakeries in Thimphu. Nine months into 2020, the Corona Virus continues to challenge many walks of life around the world.

Sonam Norbu is 61 years old. He has been managing the Norbu Bakery for almost 20 years. After resigning from the government, he took up the role of manager in one of the oldest bakeries in Bhutan.

“Around the late 1990s and early 2000s, business was good. Being one of the few bakeries in town, we even one time supplied bread as far as Punakha. In the recent years, although sales are down, the bakery did enough to survive,” said Sonam.

There are currently 8 people working in the bakery but the old bread factory finds itself closed nowadays, their ovens turning into cold unlit caves. Apart from a few spots of spilled flour on the ground, their storerooms echo through empty jute sacks lying disfigured on the floor. Despite the situation, none of the staff have been laid off fortunately and neither has there been a reduction in their salary.

“Before 2020, about 2,000 pieces of bread were produced in a week. However, with stringent restrictions and unpredictable lockdowns in India, the irregular delivery and transportation of items has greatly hindered the process. Due to the limited supply of maida from India, suppliers have not been able to bring in large quantities of flour. According to Sonam, the bakery usually orders in sacks weighing 45 kilograms each and utilizes 40 sacks every week.”

Although some smaller quantities of maida are still sold, it makes it difficult for us to sustain using them with the amount we make. It posed some drawbacks in our flow of work and certain limitations to production. Ideally, it is easier if we can buy in large wholesale quantities. It is cost-efficient and lasts longer,” said Sonam.

“The Indian maida is finer and better in terms of quality. We need that particular brand in order to maintain our quality of bread too,” continued Sonam.When the lockdown was first declared in August, there were more than 700 loaves of fresh bread in the factory waiting to be distributed to various shops across Thimphu. The closure of shops and limitation of movement meant that the bread would go stale. But Sonam received a call from the bakery proprietor asking to offer all the loaves of bread to the De-suups.

“I live in the same movement zone as the factory. I handed the loaves of bread to the De-suup in charge. COVID-19 is very uncertain, but our country is doing everything it can for our safety,” said Sonam.Amidst the concerns, Sonam said that their suppliers are trying their very best to provide the items the bakery needs and until then, management is looking into temporary measures to keep their ovens warm and filled with bread.

As Joti reached the factory, she spotted Sonam closing the bakery door. She continued to walk home and step by step, the smell of bread faded away.

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