… chilli growers continue to suffer decreased yield 

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

This winter, Tsirang dzongkhag has produced 3,700 metric tonnes (MT) of winter vegetables, an increase of 300MT from the previous years.

More than 10 commercial farmers have focused on the production of cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, beans, chillies, squash, radish, pea, guards, pumpkins, and leafy vegetables. The dzongkhag agriculture sector supported the farmers as part of the winter vegetable programme.

Senior dzongkhag agriculture officer Dorji Gyeltshen said that the sector was targeting increased production of chillies, onion, tomatoes, beans, garlic, spring potato that are in shortage according to the annual production data. “We are working on market-driven production instead of growing that are not in demand.”

However, the dzongkhag’s winter chilli production has dropped due to diseases and infection. Most of the chilli growers in the dzongkhag reported a drastic drop in production.

The dzongkhag has produced about 4,000 kilograms of local chillies to date and the sector has estimated a weekly production of 500kgs henceforth.

The production by this time, Dorji Gyeltshen, said could have been tenfold but the cold temperature due to snowfall and rainfall in the higher altitudes affected the chilli saplings.

“There was severe defoliation and stunted growth that affected production,” he added.

The dzongkhag started large scale chilli production in 2017.

Dorji Gyeltshen said that starting from the middle of this month until June, is a season for mass chilli production.

To compensate for the loss in chilli production in the last few months, the sector is currently exploring chilli plantation in low-lying areas.

The agriculture sector has plans to supply additional greenhouse to raise seedlings, mulching plastics to grow winter chillies, tomatoes and other high-value crops, to suppress weed, maintain soil temperature and moisture, enhance microbial activities that contribute to enhanced production.

As most of the areas in Tsirang face both drinking and irrigation water shortages, there are plans to encourage integrated or dryland irrigation and provide water-efficient technologies such as sprinklers and drip irrigation to farmers.

“But the import of cheap Indian chillies has affected the interest of farmers and disrupted the gradual increase in production from the dzongkhag,” Dorji Gyeltshen said.

During lockdown from January until last month, Tsirang farmers faced marketing challenges. Movement restriction for vegetable collection, vehicle breakdown, security personnels objecting to transportation of produce despite clearances, were few among many.

Due to movement restrictions, small-scale vegetable growers reported marketing challenges and damage to their produce.