Bhutanese chilli production finally survives the winter

Recent trends in the market show that there is an increase in the production of the local chillies and that they are available during the winter. In the past, seeing local chillies available during the winter was a rare and expensive sight.

A housewife, Dema Zangmo, said, “Typically, Bhutanese chilies were quite scarce and pricey throughout the winter. When not in season, I used to pay Nu 600 to Nu 700 per kg for the chillies, but last year I only paid Nu 200 to Nu 300  per kg.”

She acknowledged that although the cost is fairly high, as compared to the cost of chillies in season, it has decreased in recent years due to the availability of local chillies in the winter.

Similarly, Kinzang Choden, a vegetable vendor said, “Yes, there is an increase in the availability of Bhutanese chillies over the years because of which there is fierce competition among the vegetable vendors to sell the chillies.”

She claimed that despite the high off-season rates, “Customers have high standards for chillies. Although Indian large chillies are readily available, many Bhutanese choose not to purchase them because they believe the spice level is insufficient.”

As per the last 10 years consumption pattern from the Department of Agriculture, on an average each person consumes about 41 grams of chillies per day which comes to around 16-17 kgs per person per year.

Tshetrim, one of the officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, said, “The production as compared to the past years was on an increasing trend.”

“In the past, there was a huge production gap in the winter (no chilies from December to March), but over the years with technical support, these production gaps have been reduced. Now, production is available throughout the season, with minimal production during the winter months,” he added. 

Upon asking the ministry what efforts were being made to see an increase in the production of chillies in Bhutan, the ministry responded by saying that the farmers were being trained on improved methods of seedling raising so that they could have enough disease-free seedlings for early planting.

Farmers are advised to plant chilli early in the lower belt of the country (latest by September) so that the plants start fruiting by October and harvest can be made by the end of November.

Two exotic cold-tolerant hybrid chilli varieties have been released in the dzongkhags. Gradual promotion of rain shelters to protect winter chilli from post-monsoon rain damage was also done.

Although there is an increasing trend in the production of chillies, the ministry said that reaching chilli sufficiency will take time as the climatic conditions in the country do not favor winter chilli production unless huge investment is made towards protected cultivation.

However, grossly it can be self-sufficient with huge production in summer months, and it would be difficult in winter.

In the summer, we have mostly local varieties like Sha Ema, Tamcho local paro, Begup, Mongarpa, and Nubi.

In winter, mostly hybrids are available: SHP 4884 and SV 2319H (existing), Sitara Gold and HPH 1069 (newly introduced).

In the coming years, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock is planning to enhance the production of chilies.

Tshetrim official from the ministry said, “We are focusing on enhancing the production of chillies by investing in protected cultivation as well as potential area expansion. Simultaneously, cold-tolerant chilli varieties are being promoted. We are also requesting the dzongkhags and marketing departments to explore regional markets through the use of aggregators (middlemen) to reach more markets.”

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