Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Buddey Subba procured 1,623 kilograms (kg) of small green chilies from farmers of three gewogs in Dagana and headed to the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM), Thimphu. He didn’t find buyers. 

There is no market for locally produced green chilies, he said, because the market is flooded with illegally imported chillies.

Imported chilies go for Nu 250 per kg, while the locally produced ones cost Nu 350. He had to sell them for Nu 200 per kg.

Buddey Subba and the agriculture extension officer of Tsendagang gewog in Dagana, Bikash Tamang, recently contacted a vegetable dealer who was suspected of importing chilies illegally.

The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) on December 24 intercepted 1,800 kg of imported green chilies from the dealer, who was fined more than Nu 2.8 million, ten times the market value of Nu 158 per kg.

Buddey Subba said that dealers can differentiate between the imported and locally produced chilies although the vendors try to fool the authorities and consumers. “The vendors usually mix the imported chilies with local.”

He said if the authorities concerned monitored the borders more strictly, wholesalers would not be able to import chilies.

“The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests should talk with the farmers and fix the pricing so that local chilies are not overpriced. The price for a kg of locally produced chilies should not increase to more than Nu 300,” Buddey Subba said. “Farmers produce enough to meet the demand.”

Despite challenges, Buddey Subba supplied about three tonnes of small green chilies to CFM vendors in the last 15 days.

Chili aggregator of Lhamoidzingkha, Tsendagang, and Dorona gewogs in Dagana, Hochu Leki, said that after supplying 1,500kg of chilies a few weeks ago, he was discouraged by the business. “The market is flooded with imported chilies at a lower price. We pay Nu 350 to farmers and have to sell at Nu 200 to vendors in the CFM.”

The vendors, he said, buy directly from the farmers at Nu 500 and the aggregators find it difficult to reduce the prices. “The farmers demand a higher price and are reluctant to sell at the farmgate price.”

Such practices, Buddey Subba said, encouraged vendors to increase the price to as high as Nu 800. “The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests should intervene and implement strict monitoring instead of leaving it to the market force.”

Bikash Tamang said that locally produced chilies could not compete with imported chilies because the cost of production was higher in Bhutan. “After the chili import ban, many farmers in the country ventured into chili production, but without a proper market and indifferent regulation, farmers are discouraged.”


Corruption at the Mini Dry Port (MDP)?

Sources allege chilies from across the border enter Bhutan because of weak monitoring by the authorities concerned.

“This is damaging the country’s self-sufficiency goals,” one said.

A source, who had been in the business for the past several years, alleged that MDP officials issue illegal import permits.

Such failures in the monitoring system indicate that officials from the police, customs, and BAFRA are involved in the illegal business, another said.