Choki Wangmo

This winter, the agriculture ministry expects to produce more than 10,000 metric tonnes (MT) of winter vegetables in seven southern dzongkhags.

Samdrup Jongkhar, Pemagatshel, Sarpang, Tsirang, Dagana, Chukha and Samtse were identified based on climatic conditions and will focus on growing chilli, cauliflower, tomato, eggplant, onion, broccoli, beans, and carrot.

The ministry targets production of 1,801MT of chilli, 306MT of onion, 459MT of tomato, 973MT of beans, 57MT of bitter gourd, 87MT of eggplant, 637MT of broccoli, 42MT of carrot, 1,705MT of cauliflower, and 30.6MT of okra in 3,826 acres of land from these dzongkhags.

According to the agriculture department’s vegetable requirement and deficit analysis for this winter, the country would require more than 8,000MT of vegetables.

The country, however, will have a deficit in producing chilli, tomato, onion, eggplant, and carrot, with chilli recording the highest deficit at -1,124MT, the analysis states. It would require an additional 1,286 acres of land for cultivation if the deficit is to be met.

Through the department’s winter chili production, in the last three years, the overall cultivation expanded from 272 acres in 2017 to 799 acres in 2019, Agriculture Research and Development Highlights 2019-2020 reported.

The department’s chief agriculture officer, Namgay Thinley, said that production of chillies, onions, and tomatoes was made mandatory in dzongkhags while signatory crops from the dzongkhags are also identified to increase production.

He said that to optimise production, new varieties and technologies are released to the authorities to be implemented in the fields. Sustainable methods like mulching are used to protect the crops from pests and diseases.

In the past few months, the quantity of imported vegetables had decreased due to the Covid-19 pandemic although there were reported shortage of onion and tomatoes in the market.

Bhutan imported 17,855MT of fresh vegetables in 2018 and 10,455MT in 2019, which is a decrease of 41 percent compared to 2018.

Meanwhile, the participants of urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu have started cultivating onion, beetroot, turnip, radish, and spinach.

A tour guide turned farmer, Jinpa Phuntsho said that the recent harvest was a success for his five-member group. They are yet to complete harvesting chilli and beetroot. In the past four months, the group collected 600 kilograms (kgs) of chillies from which 95kgs were dried.

“Dried products are lucrative. We earn Nu 3,300 a sack of dry chilli. In this growing season, we earned Nu 100,000 and didn’t have to buy vegetables for our families,” he said.

He said that they were worried that the seasonal change won’t favour the growth but with the help of FAO Bhutan, they are planning to build poly-houses.

Except for two groups, many have abandoned their fields in Bebena citing a shortage of farm labour.

The urban agriculture programme with additional fund from the FAO involved a total of 22 groups comprising 87 members who were provided with land development services, vegetable seeds/seedlings, organic manure, electric fencing and agriculture tools more than Nu 0.5 million.

Bhutan exported 3,687MT of vegetables worth Nu 73.95M in 2019 which is twice of 1,731MT worth Nu 35.51M in 2018.