Nima | Gelephu

Farmers in Sarpang are struggling to sell chillies despite slashing the price almost by half compared to the initial days when a kilo of chilli was priced at Nu 350 at the source on an average.

The price at the source has come down to Nu 150 per kg. Most farmers said that they could sell only about 50 percent of the produce.

A kilo of chilli is sold at Nu 300 in the market today in Gelephu. It was sold at Nu 700 per kilo at the beginning of the year.

A farmer from Chuzanggang, Singye Tshering, said that he sold around 10 metric tonnes of the spice, mostly to Thimphu to date. “There are another 20 to 30 metric tonnes of chillies in the field. Chillies are ready for the harvest but there are no buyers now. We don’t understand why” he said.

The farmer added that the market could be filled with illegally imported chillies, as there were incidents of officials concerned not being transparent when they intercept the banned items.

“We asked authority concerned but we are not able to understand it yet. Chillies were stopped at Darachhu check post. It was not shared even through media. Heard the chillies were mostly sent from here (Gelephu),” said Singye Tshering.

The lack of workers for the harvest is also hindering the sale this time.

With the prices for chillies dropping and wages for labour increasing, farmers say they are incurring a huge loss. “It is discouraging to work in such a situation,” said the farmer.

The farmers from Chuzanggang were at the gate last week, observing how the import of vegetables is monitored to ensure illegal import of banned items is stopped at the gate.

“Vendors were not happy with us doing that. Officials said we don’t have the right to know about the intercepted consignments. We thought illegal chillies were in the market,” said Singye Tshering.

Kamana Gurung from Samtenling said that they had to call for the vendors now.

“Vendors say there is no market, as chillies from Tsirang and Punakha are in the market. Earlier vendors rushed to buy but now we have to force them to buy,” she said.

Officials from Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) office in Gelephu stopped four consignments of vendors trying to import chillies illegally so far since the lockdown. They were fined as per the regulation.

BAFRA officer in-charge, Lham Dorji, said the officials in the field had been doing a wonderful job despite manpower shortage, stopping banned items several times.

“These false allegations are from aggregators. When there is no market for chillies they tend to say that the market is flooded with illegal chillies. There could have been lapses in the field. But, we have a committee to check our officials in the field,” he said.

He added that the fall in demand could be because almost everyone had started kitchen gardening since chilli became too costly.

“We also have officials at Sershong and Sarpang check post doing the inspection. It was challenging to stop 100 percent because we don’t stay 24 hours at the border gate. We are trying our best,” said the official.

Officials say the vendors mixed chillies with other vegetable items while trying to import illegally. “Sometimes it’s hidden in the middle of a consignment,” said an official.

Farmers said that there was a need for a stringent penalty for repeat offenders. Today, the penalty for the vendors caught trying to import banned items illegally for the first time and repeated times is the same.