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A  farmer in Tsirang, Indira Thapa, never grew so much chilli in his life. He did not earn so much either from selling vegetables.

On December 11, the farmer from Pemathang chiwog in Gosarling gewog sold 15 kilogrammes (kg) of chilli at Nu 200 a kg.

He has so far earned Nu 6,400 for 32kgs of winter chilli that he cultivated on the insistence of agriculture officials.

Indira Thapa expects to harvest another 10kgs in the next few days.

Gosarling agriculture extension officer, Tshering Dendup, said the gewog sold 60kgs on Monday at the Tsirang vegetable market.

He said Indira Thapa is one of the 15 farmers growing winter chilli in the gewog. “We’re going to send the chillies to Thimphu next time.”

As the price of chilli soars to Nu 250 a kg in Thimphu, the agriculture ministry expects about 44.25MT of chilli to hit the market this month from the first harvest.

“The agriculture ministry negotiated the price of chilli with farmers and vendors at Nu 100,” Indira Thapa said.

Based on the national average yield of 1.60MT per acre as of 2015, the total expected production this winter is 1,011.92MT.

The agriculture ministry implemented the winter chilli programme after banning the import of chillies from India in July last year. After the ban, the price of chilli shot to Nu 700 a kg. Food Corporation of Bhutan then imported and distributed chillies at Nu 50 a kg to meet demands across the country last winter.

Bhutan Trade Statistics 2016 show that the country imported 1,846 metric tonnes (MT) worth Nu 59.003 Million (M) of green chillies from India.

Records maintained with agriculture ministry show that between January and March 2017, a total of 157.89MT worth about Nu 4.147M of green chillies were imported from India. The data from FCB between December 6, 2016, and April 7, 2017, shows a total of 223.05MT worth Nu 5.570M of green chillies imported from India to meet demands during the lean season.

A study by vegetable programme official, Kinley Tenzin, found that 10.94MT of chillies were damaged in transportation and only 212.10MT were sold in the domestic market.

Agriculture officials say winter chilli was grown since August this year on 688.66 acres in 62 gewogs of eight dzongkhags and four farms of FMCL in Kana and Nichula in Dagana, Gelephu and Phuntshothang in Sarpang.

Agriculture department in collaboration with agriculture research and development centres and dzongkhag administrations prepared production plan for commercial winter chilli production in June 2017.

The ministry invested Nu 20.947 million to supply inputs to farmers and Farm Machinery Centre for efficient water use facilities, protected cultivation technologies and quality seeds from national vegetable programme.

The department of agriculture marketing and cooperatives (DAMC) linked producers with the market in Thimphu based on the market demand analysis.

DAMC also linked producers with local vegetable vendors or vegetable vendor association of Centenary Farmers’ Market in bringing the fresh chillies to Thimphu.

Dzongkhags, gewogs and beneficiaries signed agreements to use the inputs for vegetable production and produce chilli for a minimum of three years.

Tshering Dhendup said that by next year, the transplantation should start a week or two earlier. “Most of the plants today are only flowering,” he said.

Agriculture officials say that the production is low as most of the first staggered transplants in the low-lying areas were damaged by continuous rain after transplanting.

Meanwhile, Indira Thapa is planning to cultivate only in poly houses. “Because of the cold, the chilli does not grow well in the open field,” he said.

Tshering Palden

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