Government launches ambitious plan to meet demand for import-restricted vegetables by this winter

Market: The shortage of chillies in the market have caused prices in many towns to skyrocket.

The price of chillies shot up to Nu 300 in the past week in Thimphu. A kilogramme of chilli usually costs Nu 200.

Supplies of chillies are drying up in the vegetable markets, vegetable vendors said.

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

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

The vegetable market in Phuentsholing has run out of chillies and cauliflowers, vegetable vendors said. They are selling dried chillies for Nu 250 a kilogramme.

After banning cauliflowers, beans, and chillies earlier this year, the government said arrangements would be made to maintain supply until the bans are lifted.

Immediately after the ban of cauliflower and beans, the Department of Agriculture in consultation with dzongkhag agriculture sectors have prepared commercial winter vegetable production plans to increase production of some selected vegetables during the winter.

The plan has been prepared mainly to meet the domestic requirement of import-restricted crops and vegetables which are usually imported in large quantities during winters.

Except for the three dzongkhags of Bumthang, Gasa and Haa, the rest of the dzongkhags have agreed to target certain levels of production of cauliflowers, beans, chillies, tomatoes and bulb onions in the months of December, January, and February.

In total, 699 acres of cauliflowers, 434 acres of beans, 374 acres of chillies, 217 acres of onions and 272 acres of tomatoes will be cultivated this winter season.

If all the production factors are met, the expected volume of production will be 1,063MT of cauliflowers, 512 MT of beans, 740MT of chillies, 243MT of bulb onions and 1,086MT of tomatoes.

The vegetable focal person of the agriculture ministry Namgay Thinley said that the last batch of seeds were distributed in the first week of September to ensure harvests could begin in time for the winter months.

The total quantity of seeds required for the five types of vegetables is 124,736 packets which will cost Nu 3.770 million. The seeds were procured by the National Seed Centre and Druk Horticulture Pvt Ltd.

The production is expected to save about Nu 677 million.

Namgay Thinley said the country depends on imported vegetables during winters from November till early April. He said that areas with ready facilities such irrigation amenities and poly houses were considered for the winter production.

Sources in the agriculture ministry said that recently the Bhutan Food and Agriculture Regulatory Authority tested Indian chillies and found the pesticide residues were still too high.

Usually the growers should not spray chemicals a week or more before harvesting the chillies or any vegetable to avoid higher residues.

Tshering Palden