Yeshey Lhadon

Farmers intending to sell vegetables— particularly chilis, cauliflower, and beans—must obtain an authentication letter, sealed and signed by their respective gewog agriculture extension officer.

This is not a new requirement. Implementation suffered gaps. This is now a renewed effort from the agriculture ministry.

The chili import ban has been on since July 2016. However, chilies from India are widely available in the Bhutanese markets.

Farmers at Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) have been reminded about the existing rules. Farmers and vendor, however, find the requirement of authentication letter cumbersome.

Dema Yangzom, a farmer, has been selling vegetables for the last 18 years. She travels around the country to procure varieties of vegetables. She never knew she must produce an authentication letter. She was warned.

“It doesn’t make sense when the officers ask us to show the authentication letter because everyone knows that Bhutan produces vegetables during summer and the borders are closed,” she said.

After she was warned by the BAFRA officials, she went to the gewog extension office in Shaba only to find an empty chair. Service delivery is still very poor in the local government offices.

Pema Lham, a fruit retailer in CFM, finds the authentication letter ridiculous. She said: “Letters are not enough to prove that the vegetables are grown locally.”

There is a gap. Many can still bring banned vegetable into the country illegally. “People are eating imported chillies and paying premium price.”

Pema Lham prefers to sell locally-grown fruits instead of vegetables. She thinks running to gewog administration office to get authentication letter is hectic procedure. It is.

She said: “Wonderfully, it takes only some gifts for the officials to obtain authentication letter. But what purpose does it serve in the end?”

Some farmers haven’t even heard about the authentication letter.

Tashi Yangzom, a farmer from Bjemina, had come to sell beans and other vegetables to the retailers at CFM. She said: “No one told me about this rule. I just knew about it today.”

Ashmaya Rai wanted to buy beans from Tashi Yangzom but she couldn’t because Tashi didn’t have authentication letter.

Choki has been growing and selling vegetables in CFM. She goes back to her farm in Punakha and sitting at the sales counter at the CFM. She has to produce an authentication letter to sell chilis and so she did not bring chili from her farm to CFM.

It took her almost two days to get the letter the last time she had to.

If vendors are caught selling banned imported vegetables, the offender will have to pay ten times the price of the market value of the produce; the second offence 50 times the value of market price; and the third offence 100 times the market price.

CFM management has terminated 1 vendor and 2 were suspended so far for breaching the rules.

The BAFRA official at CFM said, “We are not the barrier between the vendors and their business. People think we inspectors have made the rule when the reality is that we are just implementing the rule.”