Phub Dem | Paro
Sangay Lham and her husband quickly feed their two children, lock them up, and the couple scurries off to guard their chili field. It is 6pm.
The couple in Isuna, Paro seeks comfort in a tarpaulin shack pitched in the corner of a terraced chili garden until day breaks.
For the farmers of Paro Isuna, a hole in the fence was the first sign of trouble. And sure enough, the rapid loss of chilies confirmed the worst.
Following the incidences of crop theft, the farmers have no time to spare. They work until dusk, and after a quick dinner, a few of them rush to guard their chilies.
Sangay Lham, along with seven other households, lost a major chunk of their chilies to thieves this year within weeks.
Although it has been four years since the village started losing their farm produce such as chili saplings, apples, and chilies, according to the farmers, the loss has been much greater this year.
Sangay Lham said that it was discouraging to invest in agriculture work with increasing incidences of crop theft and losing the produce to wildlife.
Unlike other farmers, Sangay Lham is working on leased land. “Forget about profit I am worried about how to repay the landowner with their share.”
She was of the view that stealing was rampant this year due to the hike in the price of chili.
Another farmer, Tshering Pem, lost the entire harvest from a big terraced field of chilies. While crop theft isn’t new, she said that the amount of chilies lost to thieves has been huge this year.
“Guarding chilies has been a nightmare this time. We spent sleepless night guarding the crops,” she said.
Within a few months, Tshering Pem lost sacks of chilies three times to thieves. Her husband has been guarding the chilies for almost four months now.
“Whenever we fail to fend the crop, thieves ransack the fields.”
Earlier this year, four of villagers chased a man who was caught stealing chilies, but they could not catch him. “He fled like a wind. We could not see his face,” Tshering Pem said.
“We have to sleep in the field until the season ends. Otherwise, our hard work goes down the drain.”
Some farmers said that guarding the fields every night was not possible for those small families.
Red dried chilies have become a cash cow that some farmers have replaced other crops and rice plantations with it.
Om from Isuna lost about eight sacks of chilies. Without any knowledge of the thief, she said that no complaints were filed.
“Although we do not stay overnight in fields, we walk around the fields at every midnight.”
In the meantime, Mendrel-Isuna tshogpa, Dawa said, he complained to police last year, but without a suspect and any lead, the chiwog could not take up the case officially.
He said that the villagers had been reporting chili theft every year. However, without any evidence, it was difficult to raise the issue.