Bhutan chili farmers feel the heat from imports

Illustration - Red chili sellers at Argosari Market Wonosari in Gunung Kidul District, Yogyakarta Special Province (ANTARA/Sutarmi). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TSIRANG, Jan 12, 2022, Kuensel. As the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests temporarily lifted the ban on chili import to “ensure availability, stabilise prices, and curb illegal import”, commercial chili farmers in Tsirang and Dagana are questioning the impact of such decisions on sustaining chili production in the country, Asia News reported.

Under the Economic Contingency Plan, many farmers in these dzongkhags have taken up commercial chili production. However, farmers were disappointed on January 7 when the government announced that the import ban would be lifted from this month until March.

A chili farmer and aggregator from Dagana, Buddey Subba, said that farmers were on the losing end in this chili business. He said that while the consumers complained about high local chili prices, there are vendors and wholesalers in the Centenary Farmers’ Market selling imported chilies at an increased price, claiming that they are locally produced.

The local producers, he said, couldn’t sell the chilies even at a lower price in the last few weeks due to the competition from the illegal import. He paid a farmgate price of Nu 250 to Nu 350 to the farmers of Karmaling, Tsendagang, and Dorona gewogs.

“The ministry made decisions without consulting with the farmers. We are demotivated,” he said, adding that he is now planning to cancel his project of mixed cropping on his five acres of land. “If the authorities keep changing rules without knowing the ground reality, it is useless to work.”

Farmers said that if the ministry made this type of decision, they ought to have done so in the past two months instead of deciding to do so when the local chilies are about to hit the market.

From his one acre of land, Buddey Subba will soon harvest two tonnes of chilies.

A commercial farmer in Samarchu, Bimal Subba, said that he had already supplied chilies for the fourth time to Thimphu. “I have 15 tonnes of chilies to harvest. Our produce would go to waste. The farmgate price is low and the cost of production is high.”

He sells his chilies to aggregators at Nu 350 a kilogram.

He said that such a decision by the government will affect the morale of local growers because there is no certainty that they will get marketing support, which is already in a poor state.

If there is market reassurance from the government, he said that the farmers will be able to produce sufficiently for the whole country.

Sita Maya Rai from Samarchu said that she worked hard but the decision was demotivating. She has grown green chilies on her two-acre land. “We don’t know the basis for such decisions.”

A farmer said that the government has ignored the winter chili growers. He said that such demotivating decisions are short-sighted and will have long-term effects on the farmers.

A farmer in Tsirangtoed, San Man Subba, however, said that the production in Tsirang was low this year due to seed resistance. He is planning to grow chilies, which will hit the market in the next three months.

Like him, many people in Tsirang are starting to plant seeds.

Some farmers in the remote part of the country were, however, unaware about the decision.

The price of the chilies imported as facilitated by the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited will vary from Nu 61 to Nu 75 per kilogram, depending on the transportation costs across the dzongkhags, says the notification.

“The in-country production met only about 20 percent of the total consumer requirements,” it stated.

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