Choki Wangmo 

The Cabinet rejected the agriculture ministry’s proposal to lift the ban on import of chillies to address shortage in the country last week.

Consumers have been unhappy with chilli shortage and its hiked prices in the market.

Sanam Lyonpo (Agriculture Minister) Yeshey Penjor said that since there were several cries over shortage of small green chillies (jitsi ema), the ministry almost decided to lift the import ban but the Cabinet had advised not to lift the ban. “The Cabinet discouraged the import, as the ministry’s assessment reported local chillies will hit the market within this month.”

He said that the local chilli production was picking up and by March, the country will have sufficient production. “We have dry chillies and chilli powders in the market today.”

According to the minister, chilli shortage is by choice as everyone is looking for jitsi ema.

Cabinet secretary, Sangay Duba, said that tested samples of chillies contained chemicals beyond permissible limit and it was difficult to ensure chemical-free chilli import.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet’s rejection were well-received by commercial farmers, who were earlier worried by the ministry’s proposal.

Farmer Kamala Gurung from Bhur, Gelephu, had grown chillies in about three acres of land and expects her first harvest within two months. Currently she is cultivating another acre and the harvest will hit the market in four months.   

She said that in normal times, the produce would have hit the market by now but it was late this year because of various reasons.

“The Cabinet’s decision to continue with the import ban would benefit farmers like me,” she said. “Our price would be higher than imported chillies because of production cost and we would be discouraged to take up farming.”

She has recruited students on her farms as day workers who were also taught farming and the related skills.

Another commercial farmer from Dekiling, Mon Kumar, said that his team worked hard to grow chillies and promotion of local vegetables would encourage younger people to take up  large-scale farming.

He had grown jitse ema in one acre of land. “By March end, we would be able to harvest.”

He, however, faced challenges due to weather conditions.

The former government banned chilli import in June 2016 due to presence of high chemical content.

Illegal imports, however, continue to be intercepted with about five cases within this month alone. With the imported items seized, the defaulters were fined.

BAFRA and customs officials seized 487.5kg green Indian chillies at the Mini Dry Port, Phuentsholing on January 24. The illegal consignment was seized during the transhipment process where the chillies were concealed among aubergines. It was headed to Thimphu.

The perpetrator would have to pay more than Nu 770,000 in fines.

Additional reporting by Rajesh Rai in Phuentsholing