… the little in the market are sold at hiked prices
Like every winter, there is a shortage of chilli in the market. The little available are sold at a high price.
A Thimphu resident recently bought a kilogram (kg) of small green chilli at Nu 500. She suspects that it is not locally produced. “The hiked price could be because shopkeepers are taking advantage of the situation.”
Chilli import was banned since 2016 but vendors have always managed to smuggle it like any other prohibited goods.
“I bought a kg of jitse ema for Nu 540 and it looks like it is brought from Jaigaon,” a Babesa resident said. A businessman confided that it was smuggled with other imported vegetables.
The same kg of small chilli in Jaigaon cost Nu 60 to 120.
Netizens have taken on social media to request the government to arrange an import measure to address the shortage.
“The government should allow chilli import so that low-income people have an option. The current price is unaffordable,” one wrote. “Low-income people are the hardest hit.”
Some, however, blamed private vendors for the price hike.
One said that farmers were not benefitted but vendors and transporters took a major chunk of the money. “They have a little contribution in production but have higher bargaining power.”
A farmer said that they only get 20 percent from the sale compared to prices charged by vendors in the market.
A vendor said that the price of chillies differs because it was supplied by wholesalers. “When a wholesaler distributes to agents or vendor and then to identified shop, the price may reach Nu 500 or 600.”
Haa and Paro
According to the agriculture officer of Paro, Tandin, there was no green chilli in the dzongkhag during this lockdown.
He said that the chillies from southern dzongkhag hardly reach Paro, as the excess chillies go to Thimphu. “There are no chillies in Paro.”
While the dzongkhag officials tried to facilitate chillies from southern dzongkhags, he said, that the excess production was enough to meet the demand of Thimphu only.
He said that the dzongkhag administration had asked the Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives, but they did not receive any response. “The agriculture office and vegetable vendors receive numerous calls from people demanding chillies.”
Some sources said that the supply of vegetables is Thimphu-centric and other dzongkhags were often neglected.
Others believed that the government should temporarily lift the ban on import of chillies as local production is limited and expensive.
Even though there are alternatives such as dried chillies, consumers said that it was expensive.“A kg of red dried chilli costs Nu 1,500.”
Meanwhile, Haa will receive some kgs of chillies along with other vegetables on Sunday from Sarpang.
Agriculture officer of Haa, Karchung, said that there was no green chilli in the dzongkhag.
He said that the dzongkhag agriculture office facilitated and linked the vendors with the southern dzongkhags.
With the farm gate price of chillies set at Nu 400, he said, it would be difficult to negotiate the price. “Locals have been using dried chillies so far.”
Vegetable vendors in Gelephu ran short of chillies a month back despite the increase in the number of farmers growing chillies at a commercial level in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic in Sarpang.
Sarpang planned to supply surplus chillies to other dzongkhags around this time of the year but farmers could produce about 30 kilos of chillies per day today.
More than 250 acres of land were used to grow winter chillies this year, an increase from 147 acres of land that produced chillies last year. The dzongkhag agriculture sector had also invested the highest budget for winter chilli production from the economic contingency plan budget.
Over Nu 600,000 was invested in chilli production. Sarpang received the highest ECP budget of more than Nu 20 million last year.
The dzongkhag agriculture officer, Deki Lhamo, said the long monsoon season followed by repeated pests and diseases outbreak damaged the winter vegetable production.
“There were many farmers who focused on growing chilli at a commercial level. The monsoon prolonged till October and damaged the production. We planned to have a surplus by this time,” she said.
According to the official, Sarpang planned to produce chilli phase-wise and the first batch of winter chillies were expected in December and January. However, the farmers who planted chillies early were damaged by heavy rainfall in September and October last year.
A farmer from Samtenling, Kamana Gurung, said she had to plant chillies more than three times this season.
“The weather was not favourable for the winter vegetable production, seedlings planted in September and October had to be replanted in the later months. The wildlife and pest attack hampered the production,” she said.
Officials from the agriculture research and development centre in Gelephu said the winter temperature was not favourable for the growth of vegetables. As the temperature gets warmer, the production is expected to increase.
Meanwhile, agriculture ministry is exploring measures and assessing situations to lift the ban on chilli import to address the shortage.
Additional reporting by Phub Dem, Rajesh Rai and Nima