… maize cultivation is on the decline

Lhakpa Quendren

Tsirang—With an increasing number of farmers in Sergithang Gewog, Tsirang, turning to commercial chilli farming during winter, maize cultivation is declining.

The terraces that were traditionally reserved for maize crops following the paddy harvest are now growing spring chilies. Currently, about 95 households in the gewog cultivate the chilies on about 140 acres of their wetland.

Rudra Lal Sanyasi, a 33-year-old resident of Tashithang, has expanded his chilli cultivation to about an acre of land, which is double the size from last year. “Now, almost every household is engaged in chilli cultivation and expanding their cultivation every year.”

“I earned about Nu 105,000 last year, and I expect to double my income this year,” he said. This takes his annual income a little higher, which helps in covering his expenses and savings.

If the price remains profitable, 55-year-old Dhanapati Sanyasi plans to expand his cultivation even further in the coming years beyond the current 30 decimal of cultivation. He owns about two acres of land, with the majority of it being wetland.

“A few years ago, the chilli fetched prices as high as Nu 600 and Nu 700 per kilogram,” Dhanapati Sanyasi said, adding that with more farmers taking up chilli farming, the price would decrease during the upcoming harvest.

With higher demand in the market, chilli offers farmers the potential for higher returns compared to maize. As this chilli is increasingly recognised as a more lucrative alternative, it has further motivated more farmers to engage in commercial cultivation.

Tshewang Chozom, a 34-year-old, has reduced maize cultivation to a small portion of the 5-acre land that was previously dedicated to maize cultivation. “Despite being labour-intensive, chilli cultivation is more profitable compared to maize.

“However, acquiring workers is challenging, in addition to high daily wages. Most of the time, I undertake the plantation alone,” she said. “We still engage in labour exchange among neighbours, which is affordable for farmers like me.”

This chilli spice was piloted in the gewog around five years ago, and the initial harvest fetched good prices. Last year, the chilli fetched prices ranging from Nu 150 to Nu 400 per kg in their villages.

There are no marketing challenges as vegetable dealers from Thimphu come to pick up the produce. Given the proximity of the location, the farmers believe that the Gelephu Mindfulness City project will bring marketing opportunities for them.

Chilli is planted in December after the rice harvest, locally known as Choti, and harvested in March before paddy cultivation begins. Apart from cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, and tomatoes grown for self-consumption, farmers in Sergithang do not grow a variety of vegetables for commercial use due to unfavourable soil conditions.

To control weeds, conserve soil moisture, and regulate soil temperature, farmers now use plastic ground covers to grow chilli unlike in the past. This has helped improve yields and enable faster growth of the plants.

The gewog administration provided free seeds during the initial cultivation, which are now available at the gewog centre for Nu 20 per packet. The gewog also facilitates providing insecticide to control pests on chilli plants.