Imports: In an attempt to meet the local demand for chillies, the government will import more than 20 metric tonnes (MT) of chillies from Kolkata, India every week hereafter.

Thimphu residents will be able to buy chillies for less than Nu 50 a kilogramme which will be imported via a charter flight tomorrow.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that the imports would continue till the country is able to produce enough chillies.

The imported chillies, commonly known as jitsi ema, will not cost more than Nu 50/kg.  This will reduce the current price of chillies in the market by four fold.

The minister said that numerous tests have been conducted on chillies from abroad with potential to be imported, which takes time. The latest batch of 10 chilli samples from the Indian national vegetable dealer in Kolkata were found to be safe.

The ministry placed an order for 23MT of chillies with the Indian national supplier that would be distributed through the Food Corporation of Bhutan.

The first consignment of 20MT will move from Kolkata this evening and is expected to reach Phuentsholing by Monday morning.

About five metric tonnes each will be sent to the eastern and central regions.

The other 10MT will be distributed among the western dzongkhags from Thimphu.

Agriculture ministry’s estimate shows a weekly requirement 20MT for the entire country.

One estimate of the minsitry shows that the country’s requirement for chillies during three winter months. December to February, is about 1,527MT 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 shortage of chillies in the market caused prices in many towns to skyrocket.

The price of chillies shot up to Nu 400 in the past weeks in Thimphu. A kilogramme of chilli usually costs Nu 100 around this time of the year.

Meanwhile the minister said that the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority would continue to carry out tests on chillies for import.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said: “As a regularity authority we’re obligated by the Food Safety Act to ban food products with toxic levels of chemicals purely based on food safety.”

In future the ministry will connect local sellers with the distributor in Kolkata.

Regular tests on chillies from Falakata still showed toxic levels of chemical residue, agriculture ministry officials said.

Local production of chillies is expected to hit the local markets in early February next year.

The ministry after banning cauliflowers, beans and chillies earlier this year launched a massive programme to boost vegetable production in the winter.

Tshering Palden