At this time of the year, sacks filled with dry chilies are stacked at the basement of every household in Merda, a village in Kangpara gewog, Trashigang.

The chilies are all set to hit the market in Samdrupjongkhar, Trashigang and Thimphu soon.

Popularly known as Kangpara solo (chili), the chilies are harvested only after it has ripened into flaming red colour. By the end of October, when the chilies start turning scarlet, they are picked and dried on rooftops and on the ground.

The picturesque view of the chilies can be seen from a distance. This is the time when Kangapara is engulfed in the fiery hues of fall.

Rinchen Norbu is busy storing the last lot of dry chilies. As he sweeps the final pieces into a blue sack, a smile of satisfaction lights up his weather-beaten face. “It has been a fruitful year,” he murmurs.

Until last year, a kilogramme of dry chilies fetched Nu 400. This year the chilies sold at Nu 500 a kg. The fresh green chilies according to the 46-year-old farmer also brought in good income. The green chilies were sold at Nu 40 a kg.

Last year Rinchen Norbu earned around Nu 80,000 from selling chilies. He produced some 40 sacks of fresh green chilies (one sack weighing approximately 25kg) and around 50kg of dry red chilies.

“If we could turn all the harvest into dry chilies, the income would be even better. But drying is a problem,” he said, adding that since the first harvest falls during rainy season, most chilies were sold fresh.

To help farmers dry their chilies during rainy season, there are about 25 drying machines made available in the gewog. However, given the small size of the machine, villagers said it restricts large scale drying.

“Although the time taken to dry chilies in the machine is comparatively faster, the quantity is less,” said another farmer. “If the harvest is good, an acre of land can produce about 2,000kg of chilies. The drying has to be done on the ground and rooftops.”

It takes about two weeks for the chilies to dry in the open, if there is no rain. The drying machine can accommodate around 30kg of chilies at a time and takes around 24 hours to dry.

While almost 90 percent of the produce is sold, villagers also store dry chili as their main winter vegetable and for seeds for the following year. Villagers said that chilies dried in the machine couldn’t be used as seeds because the intense heat from the machine kills the seeds.

Some households also simmer green chilies in hot water, which loses its colour after it is dried, for consumption. Known as shukam, the white dried chilies are highly valued and given away as gifts during special occasions.

Kangapara mangmi, Sangay Tenzin, said that with the construction of farm roads, the chili business has grown over the years. “Kangpara is known for its chilies and the ideal location and climatic conditions has helped farmers earn good income from the crop,” he said.

However, the mangmi said that with the changing climate, production has slightly decreased in recent times in places like Pasaphu and Kangpar chiwogs. “The issue is taken into consideration and the agriculture office is currently studying the reason for the declining production.”

Sangay Tenzin said that the gewog has prioritised commercialisation of chilies in the 12th Plan.

Younten Tshedup |  Kangpara