The on-going import ban on chillies from Falakata spiced up the question-answer session at the National Assembly yesterday.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji picked on Trashiyangtse’s Bumdeling-Jamkhar Member of Parliament (MP) Dupthob calling him the MP of Falakata.

The session saw heated debate and mudslinging among the members, one party accusing the other of sensationalising minor issues.

MP Dupthob said the ban has caused inconvenience to both vendors and consumers. “While we acknowledge the need to impose time-bound ban on food products if they are found to be contaminated, we don’t find it logical to extend it for long.”

He said that extending the ban was illogical as chilli is a seasonal crop and the chemical content could vary from time to time. “If the intention is to boost local production and aim to achieve self-sufficiency, why is the government interfering in the pricing of local chillies.”

Agriculture minister said that import of chilli was banned for public health safety.

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) tests found chilli, beans, and cauliflower from Falakata contained toxic levels of pesticides. BAFRA continues to monitor through regular tests on the quality of food products and agriculture imports including chilli and the results have not changed, the minister said.

The ministry has paid better rates for local chillies from Belphu in Trashiyangtse.

“No one has died or fell ill from not eating chilli,” the minister said.

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) asked the minister if the ministry had any negotiations with the suppliers in Falakata to reduce the chemical content in the vegetables.

“For the suppliers, what they supply to Bhutan is a small fraction of their market which is why I think it did not make business sense for them to make the changes,” the minister said.

However, the government is implementing numerous measures to promote self-reliance in vegetables supplying poly house, trying different varieties, and incentives, among others.

Wamrong MP Karma Tenzin asked Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji to submit an update on the distribution of power tillers to all chiwogs that the government had pledged.

The minister informed that according to an assessment carried out by the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd, about 7,000 power tillers were required for the country to solve the problem of farm labour shortage.

“We’ve issued a power tiller each to most of the chiwogs and distribution of power tillers to the remaining chiwogs is a priority given its multiple uses including transportation of patients,” the minister said.

Tshering Palden