With the domestic seasonal supply drying out fast and the import ban still on, prices of vegetables in Thimphu are spiraling with each passing week frustrating both vendors and consumers. Meanwhile the government’s winter vegetable production in the warmer districts is yet to hit the markets or make any impact.
Prices of chilli, cauliflower and beans, on which the import ban from India was imposed earlier this year after high chemical content was detected, have reached record levels in particular.
Chilli now costs Nu 300 a kg up from 150 a kg, cauliflower Nu 250 a kg from Nu 100 a kg and beans Nu 150 a kg from Nu 60 a kg. “I have never experienced anything like this in 13 years,” said Sangay, a vendor at the Centenary Farmers Market (CFM). At the CFM chillies are rare, there is some quantity of beans and no sight of cauliflowers.
Sangay said it has been two weeks with no supply of cauliflower. “Soon we won’t get chilli as well because the production of the chilli will be over in two weeks time,” she added saying that vendors now had to go to farmers and compete to get the limited product paying high rates.
A vegetable vendor in Hong Kong market said that vendors were not happy with the ban. “If the government were to ban looking at the benefit than I think they should have other alternatives which may not lead us to such situation,” he said
Namgay Thinley, National Vegetable Program coordinator, said BAFRA issued the import after consulting the ministry and coming up with a production plan to compensate for the ban.
“We did not get the proposed budget due to budget limitation but the production plan for winter vegetables, especially for those three vegetables were prepared in consultation with the dzongkhag agriculture sector,” Namgay Thinley said.
The plan has been initiated in 17 Dzongkhags, except for high altitude dzongkhags of Bumthang, Gasa and Haa. In total, 699 acres for cauliflower, 434 acres for beans and 374 acres for chillies are to be cultivated this winter. Tomato and onion cultivation will also be done.
“Considering that all the production factors are met, the expected volume of production will be 1036 MTs of cauliflower, 512 MTs of beans and 740 MTs of chillies with a monetary value of Nu 458 million,” Namgay Thinley said. “With this we can meet the requirement for beans and cauliflower but we are worried about the chilli production since chilli production can be done only if we have enough green-houses.
According to him production of chilli will be very difficult in December and January but by March chilli will be in the market.
With local supply of chillies to dry up in two weeks Namgay Thinley said they are thinking of importing from other parts of India (Sikkim and Darjeling) but only after doing chemical analysis, to meet the demand. “After testing, if found negative, than, we might go ahead with the import from other parts of India. Until now, we have been importing from Falakata, India,” Namgay Thinley said. “Until the time of next production, it is customer’s choice if they want to consume the product with chemical contents“
BAFRA officials said they are still carrying out testing and vegetables from India still contain high amounts of chemicals. “If the test shows positive we can’t lift the ban,” officials said.
Dawa Lhamo, owner of Druk Green restaurant said that, it is becoming difficult for them to price their menu. “We cannot increase the menu rates suddenly but we cannot run our business at a loss as we have to pay a huge rent,” she said.
A driver in a private office said that life has become difficult for people like him in Thimphu with high rent, high prices in every commodity and now with vegetables.
Another couple said that, “We are five in family and it is hard to sustain even when both of us are employed. It would be far better if we are residing in the rural areas.”
While there is still strong support and appreciation for BAFRA’s ban of chemical heavy vegetables the challenge for the Agriculture Ministry will be to meet the shortfall through domestic production.