Chimi Dema | Semjong

Many chilli farmers in Tsirang mourn over the poor chilli yield this season due to continuous heavy rainfall in the dzongkhag. 

However, one individual in Semjong gewog had a bountiful harvest owing to modern cultivation technology.

The gewog agriculture extension officer, Namgay transplanted small chillies on 15 decimal land using plastic mulching on a trial in February.

Having sold about 400 kilogrammes (kgs) of chillies already, he is waiting to pick the last harvest from his field.

“I made more than Nu 100,000 and sold at a minimum of Nu 250 a kg,” he said. He expects another 20kg from the last harvest.

Ngawang Phuntsho Tamang from Dzomling chiwog cultivated on the same size of land as Namgay, the gewog agriculture officer, but he harvested only around 90kgs.

“I think it is because I haven’t used plastic mulching.” The differences were visible, he said. “Chilli plants grown with plastic mulches have better growth and yield.” He wants to use the method in the next season.

Namgay said that he cultivated the chillies to demonstrate the new method as well as to encourage farmers.

“The government provides subsidies for plastic but only a few are interested,” he said.

He said that such a method is necessary to use in a commercial farming system to enhance crop productivity.

Plastic film mulching of seedbeds, he said, improves crop yields and water use efficiency through maintaining soil moisture, suppressing weeds and increasing soil temperature.

“Favorable moisture and temperature conditions under plastic mulches also affect plant roots, typically stimulating root development and increasing root exudation,” he said.

The government’s chilli production project in low altitude chiwogs of Dekiling and Dzomling provided plastic mulching for early chilli production on around five-acre land, last year. About 68 farmers participated in the project.

Given its agronomic benefits in crop production systems, many farmers in the gewog are keen to use plastic mulches for upcoming winter chilli production.

A farmer in Dekiling chiwog, Bal Bahadur Tamang wants to cultivate winter chilli on 50-decimal land using the new method.

“Such technology has become important to increase yield, reduce pesticide consumption, and provide frost protection to the crop,” he said. “Moreover, it also reduces leg work for farmers.”

Bal Bahadur Tamang said that with plastic mulches on 10-decimal land for early chilli last year, he sold about 100kgs.

“Without it, I could have harvested barely 40kgs,” he said. “The plants rot after about three harvests.”

Namgay said that more farmers were now seeking support for plastics from the government. For the coming season, the project would provide plastics to cover eight acres.

He said that farmers were also willing to purchase on their own, realising its benefits. A roll of plastic costs around Nu 3,000 and could cover 25 decimals.

However, a growing concern with using plastic mulches is that the  residual plastics are never completely removed from a field and thus, leaving remnants which remain in soil for decades.

As substitutes to polyethylene mulch films, experts suggest using biodegradable plastic mulches that are designed to be tilled into soil after use and where microorganisms degrade the plastic.