Phurpa Lhamo  | Punakha     

With chilli prices soaring in the market amid the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers in Punakha are gearing up to increase production this year.

Today, as many as 80 polytunnels per households have been set up in the paddy fields in Punakha.

The polytunnels help fasten the growth of the chillies, cucumbers, and cyclanthera pedata (olachoto) saplings.

In Yebisa chiwog, Namgay Choden is planning to double her chilli plantation to an acre-land from 50 decimal last year.

Namgay Choden said that with the pandemic and the agriculture officials encouraging vegetable cultivation, villagers were increasing production.

She added that earlier she feared there wouldn’t be demand if she increased production. This year, due to the pandemic, she expects better sale.

All 49 households in Yebisa cultivate chillies. Cucumbers, beans, and olachoto are also commonly grown.

This year, for the first time, the villagers have taken up cultivation of winter crops such as broccoli and cauliflower. Gewog agriculture officials provided seeds to encourage production.

Pemba, 59, already sold broccolis twice this year. He is now piloting a new measure to avoid frost on olachoto using pet bottles.

“Earlier I used tree branches, which I felt were really harmful to the environment as well. And the tree branches easily dries in the sun, thus requiring change now and then,” Pemba said.

He cut pet bottles in half and put over the olachoto sprouting like fences to avoid frost. “If frost forms on the sprouts, then the plant would die easily,” Pemba said.

While farm work is in full swing, farmers also worry that lack of market might affect them in the long run.

In Punakha, chilli harvest season begins by May. Following chilli plantation, farmers are then engaged in paddy cultivation.

Yebisa chiwog tshogpa Thuji Zangmo said that farmers showed huge interest in vegetable cultivation. “It does bring good returns for the farmers.”

The gewog agriculture extension officials have also provided farmers with hybrid chilli seeds, and seeds for cucumber and zucchini. They also support to construct greenhouses, and free pesticides during infestations are provided.