SANGAY RABTEN | Thimphu
Despite initial delay in plantation due to pest infection and cold waves, chilly growers in the south are hopeful that their chilies will hit the domestic market by April end.
Currently, there is a dearth in the supply of spices after Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) banned the import of Indian chilies after detecting high pesticide content.
However, despite the shortage, vendors have already begun to fetch chilies from the southern dzongkhags in small quantities which cost around Nu-650-800 in Thimphu.
Chili growers said their production this year was hampered due to the cold wave the country experienced in recent months. The current lot distributed across the country was produced in small quantities in greenhouses.
Ramesh from Bhur, Sarpang said that unlike in the past years, chili production is not so good this year. He said there was insufficient rainfall during the plantation it was destroyed by incessant rain during the flowering stage.
Last year Ramesh harvested about 600 kilograms of chilies a week but he expects very less this year.
A chili grower from Samteling gewog, Sarpang, Deepak Chhetri, said that chili seedlings were infected with mites and pesticides. He owns about four acres of chili farm which is able to produce only about 10-15 kilograms in a week.
Because of lower yields this year, farmers of Samtenling say that it would be difficult to meet the demand for the spice in another country.
Meanwhile, farmers who planted chili on a large scale farm in Chuzergang and other nearby gewogs say they can supply sufficient chilies to Thimphu and other dzongkhags provided there is proper transport and marketing mechanism.
The owner of Tara Farm, Singye from Chuszergang gewog, Sarpang who has planted about 30 acres, said chili plants have started flowering and it can be available in the markets after a week or two.
The manager of Druk Integrated Farm in Chuzergang, Bhimraj Thapa, said farmers from the chiwog can produce enough chili to meet the market demand. While he said that the farmers needed technical support and proper marketing mechanisms in place, he expects to supply at least a bolero truck full in a week in the coming days.
While the price of chili in Sarpang is Nu 250-300, Bhimraj said the price had to be hiked as labor and transportation costs increased. “Therefore the price cannot be kept at par with Indian chilies,” he said, adding that the government and consumers should understand the rising production costs.
The agriculture extension officer of Chuzergang gewog, Tashi, said the gewog expects to produce about 30-40 metric tons by end of this month. However, he said they cannot guarantee enough supply to meet overall market demand.
Besides a few mini plantations, there are seven chili mega-farms in the gewog according to the gewog agriculture extension officer.
Meanwhile, farmers from Tsirang also shared a similar cause for the delay in producing chili this year.
Jai Kumar Sanyasi from Sergithang gewog said that the flowering of chili plants was delayed because of the cold wave. He said that production would be less compared to last year.
Buddha Rani Subha from Tashiling chiwog said that the chili plant needs a warm temperature and this year there was defoliation due to cold weather brought by snowfall and rainfall at higher altitudes. She said it is flowering now only and expects the yield soon. However, she said yield will be less.
The agriculture extension officer of Sergithang gewog, DB Ghalley, said the farmers have reduced chili cultivation as they could not sell their produce last year. He said farmers can distribute chili in the markets only after two weeks or later.
Tsirang Dzongkha Agriculture Officer (DAO) Dorji Gyeltshen said the production was affected due to the extreme cold weather and falling off leaves. However, he said production will pick up by April and May.
The productions from the greenhouse plantation are already over according to the DAO. Tsirang dzongkhag could produce about 1,000 kilograms in a day in previous years, but this year he expects only about 500 kilograms. The field price of chili in Tsirang is about Nu 200-300 today.
Meanwhile, Dagana dzongkhag has already started supplying the spice grown in the low lying regions to Thimphu and Wangdue.
Though the production did not see a major drop, Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer Devi Charan Bhandari said the dzongkhag would be able to produce only about 8,000-1,000 kilograms.
Sonam Wangdi, the agriculture extension officer of Nichula gewog in Lhamoidzingkha Dungkhag said the production in the gewog is comparatively lower this year because of water scarcity. However, he said farmers are seen keen in growing the spice. The field price of chilies in Lhamoidzingkha is about Nu 150 a kilogram today.
Samtse DAO, Chogyal Norbu, said while the targeted chili production of the dzongkhag is about 100 metric tons, however, this year the dzongkhag would be able produce only about 40-60 metric tons. The regulated field price in Samtse is Nu 250-280 but consumers said it has already reached Nu 350-400 a kilogram.
The minister for Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Yeshey Penjor, said the ministry had asked interested private individuals to look at importing Indian chilies with lesser chemical content as an interim measure to maintain the supply chain.
The minister added that they are ready to support farmers in marketing their produce if they sell it at an affordable price to the consumers.
However, Lyonpo said that farmers are charging a high price. “We should also protect consumers besides helping the farmers,” he said.