Agriculture: Come next winter, Bhutan will not face the kind of shortage that has hit chilli lovers this winter, agriculture minister, Yeshey Dorji said at the Meet the Press on December 8.

Although a winter vegetable programme is underway to produce the banned vegetables – cauliflowers, beans, and chillies, – besides onions and tomatoes this winter, Bhutanese will have to adjust as the ministry cannot do much in the short term.

The ministry is implementing a winter vegetable programme to meet the domestic requirement of import-restricted crops and vegetables, which are usually imported in large quantities during winters.

To produce the required quantity, the country has to cultivate at least 771 acres of land considering the present productivity rate of 1.98MT per acre.

Bhutan is sufficient in vegetables for nine months and there are serious challenges to be sufficient throughout the year, the minister said.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji maintained that food safety is the main reason they banned import of chillies.

The price of chillies ranges between Nu 15 and Nu 20 in Kolkata. Adding the transport and handling charges, the cost rises to Nu 40 a kilogramme. The vendors are given Nu 10 as profit on the condition that they will not charge the customers more than the fixed price of Nu 50.

The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regularity Authority (BAFRA) conducts regular tests for all the major pesticide groups to ensure food safety.

“Even the chillies from Kolkata is tested on arrival,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said.

About three metric tonnes of chillies were transported in a chartered flight last Sunday for free by the two airlines.

The chillies were imported to counter sky-rocketing prices. The shortage of chillies is strongly felt in the capital and not much in the dzongkhags, he said.

The minister said that the country was never sufficient in chillies, without the imports.

With the ban on chillies, prices shot up to Nu 500/kg in Thimphu at one time with the shortage growing acute and stretching over a fortnight.

One estimate of the ministry shows that the country’s requirement for chillies during winters is about 1,527MT considering that two thirds of the annual import of chillies which is 2,291MT, is consumed during winter.

Tshering Palden