One of our most significant events this year is that of Bhutan’s exporting of eggs to India. A few years ago, we were importing them – in truckloads. This goes to show that we have the potential to grow and progress as a country, provided we put in a little more effort and work harder. Did you know, Bhutan today has 422,648 hens and produces 251,678 eggs a day?
In July 2016, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) banned the import of chilies from India reasoning that the laboratory tests conducted confirmed presence of pesticides. And right there was our opportunity to grow on our own. The news was like winning a lottery and it sure was a boon to many a Bhutanese chilli growers, as they now had ready market san competition from cheap chilies from across the border.
Then came the ‘off season’. That is when the price of chillies unreasonably shot up as high as Nu. 300-400 per kg. It was unreasonable and daylight robbery, many people protested. And then people took to the social media. Newspapers, radio stations, national televisions were filled with nothing but chillies. “Can chillies bring down a government,” someone posted on Facebook. And then the authorities had to look for options in chillies from Kolkata, India.
And with that, we have lost our opportunity. The ban was an excellent opportunity for our farmers to grow and grow more. BAFRA’s ban of chilies was our golden goose. But now we killed it, for good. At this rate, we can never be self-sufficient. We will always need to import vegetables from India and more so in winters.
But Bhutan is not like India. We have places that stretch from 100 meters and rise to above 5,000 meters above the sea level. And such differences in elevation means we can grow vegetables throughout the year. Yes, even chillies can be grown all year around, in different places – south, east, west and central. That’s the blessing we have in Bhutan. When it is the so-called ‘off- season’ in the south, it would be the right season for these vegetables in cooler regions, and vice-versa. Who knows just like our egg-story, our chillies may find their ways to India, too?
But now our farmers would not grow chillies more than they can consume as Bhutanese markets will be filled with cheaper options. Where is the incentive to grow more?
I hoped that the ban would trigger many good things in the country. But it is a lost opportunity now. Our greedy middlemen managed to kill our golden goose. These greedy people deserve all our praises!
But again, how can we blame them? Come to think of it, do they control the prices? It is the market forces. Higher the demand and lesser the supply – perfect combination – for higher prices of goods and services. Simple economics.
By Nawang P. Phuntsho
The writer works for READ Bhutan, an NGO and is also an author and blogger