The price of the smaller and spicier fresh green chilli has been rising ever since the agriculture ministry banned import of Indian chillies after detecting high content of pesticide residue in July this year. A slump in domestic production because of the heavy monsoon has not helped to ease the supply.
Today chilies from Trashigang and Punakha valley cost more than Nu 5,500 per pack (29 to 30 kg sack). It is Nu 250 a kilogramme (kg) from the wholesaler store and Nu 270 a kg from retailers.
Vendors at Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) in Thimphu say the hike is also because of a slump in domestic production this season, which has led to demand outstripping supply.
Vendors pointed out that in the past even during bumper harvests consumers still depended on imports from India particularly for the small and spicy variety, which is not cultivated much in the country.
Consumers have expressed difficulties in getting chilies at a reasonable price and are of the opinion that prices might hike in the coming days if relevant agencies do not intervene.
“Chilies are an essential ingredient for the Bhutanese,” said one consumer. “There is no substitute for chili.”
Sonam Tshomo, a wholesale trader at CFM, said there is a huge demand for Bhutanese chilies following the ban on Indian chilies.
Last year the local produced small green chilies sold for a maximum of Nu 120 a kg and the bigger ones fetched 150 a kg at this time of the year.
Today, the bigger ones sell for Nu 80 to Nu 200 a kg at the CFM depending on freshness and quality. Chilies from Trashiyangtse sell for the highest price followed by Paro and Punakha.
Lhamo, 43, from Jemina who supply green chilies to the vendors in CFM said this year all varieties of chilies are selling at a higher price because of high demand and low production.
She said that the prices of several vegetables like potato, along with chilies, have risen over the past few months.
Another wholesaler, Pem Dechen, said the steep rise in transportation cost and input cost has also inflated the prices.
Jemo, a vegetable vendor in Olakha, said the price of other vegetables has been reasonable and was never an issue like the chilli price.
She said that prices of all vegetables price drops during its production season and rises gradually when the season gets over. “But chilies prices has been very high from the beginning of its season,” she said.
The agriculture ministry however maintains that prices of the green chilies, especially the small ones, would come down in winter once the market is flooded with chilies from sub tropical production areas like Sarpang, Tsirang and Dagana.
Through the ministry’s initiatives farmers in these districts are growing chilies on a large scale to meet domestic demand after the ban on pesticide ridden Indian chilies.
According to the agriculture minister, Yeshey Dorji, the small green chilies for now would cost relatively high due to low production and consumers can opt for affordable green chilies available in the market
The minister said that small chilies from south will soon reach the markets and consumers can avail them at a much lower price.
The minister added that with the ban on import of Indian chilies Bhutanese farmers are now engaged in commercial farming which would help contribute to self-sufficiency of chilies in a few years.
The minister said that import ban on Indian chilies would continue for some time and the focus would be on increasing domestic production.