The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) temporarily lifting the ban on chili and egg, on the onset and outright, seems like an illogical interim measure done in perpetual haste without looking at the larger repercussions the move has on our farmers and the health of consumers.
Though import aims to ensure availability, stabilize prices and curb illegal import, it seems it may not serve the purpose it is carved for.
The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) banned the import of chilies from India on 23 July 2016.
The BAFRA banned the chili import after finding positive test results confirmed through laboratory testing for one variety of imported chili in May 2016. Three imported chili varieties-Hybrid, Terasani, and Akashi, tested in the Export Inspection Agency laboratory, India showed four major groups of pesticides.
The imported chili varieties showed the presence of 4 –Bromo-2-Chlorophenol, a pesticide belonging to the organochlorine group. 4- Bromo-2-Chlorophenol is considered being moderately toxic (WHO Class II) and its use is not permitted in Bhutan according to the WHO Classification of Pesticides.
The agriculture ministry is initiating the time-bound import for three months until March to ensure availability and curb illegal import. The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) is importing and facilitating the supply of the chilies to the vendors.
Again as an interim measure to address the egg shortage in the market, the MoAF authorized Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited (BLDCL) to import eggs from India on 9 January this month.
It is stated that BLDCL will import 35,000 trays of egg in a week, where imports may increase depending on the demand in the market.
BAFRA also banned the import of poultry products as a precautionary measure after detection of bird flu in Indian poultry farms.
It was also the objective of the first democratic government to fulfill self-sufficiency.
While the interim measures are to plug the widening inflation and shortages, on the other hand, farmers are concerned about the impact of such decisions on sustaining chili production in the country.
Under the Economic Contingency Plan, many farmers have taken up commercial chili production. The farmers are now disappointed by the government’s decision to lift the ban from this month until March.
While there are reports of local chili not being able to sell even at a lower price (Nu 250-350), on the contrary, there are illegally imported chili hitting the market and sold in the guise of locally produced chili.
Similarly, poultry farmers are also disappointed with the decision of importing eggs. This would discourage the farmers from producing the egg. It is felt that the price of eggs due to the involvement of intermediaries despite low prices at the farm gate, which implicates the government, is not regulating the price.
The irony or objective of imposing fines for the illegal importers and government importing is illogical and it could have large implications on our food self-sufficiency targets.
Moreover, the logic of importing adulterated farm products which were considered inconsumable by the same government defies the very common sense of banning it in the first place.
Only time will tell if the government’s decision will invite a rotten egg on its own face.