MoAF to give a final try at chilli self sufficiency and if not successful will do away with import bans

FCBL imported 253.4 MT of chillies worth Nu 10.9 mn as of February 10, 2022

To meet the chilli shortage and price hike, the government approved a time bound import of “safe green chilies” into the country between January and March 2022.

FCBL has imported 253.4 MT of chillies worth Nu 10.9 mn into the country as of February 10, 2022.

For winter vegetable production, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests had focused on seven southern dzongkhags. However, the chilli output was unable to fulfill the market demand.

According to the Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor, the shortage of chillies in the country is basically due to the failure of winter chilli production in the country.

Lyonpo said that the failure is not due to a lack of effort on their part; the farmers have put in a lot of effort.

“It is a failure because by August and September, we must grow the seedlings, and the seedlings are not doing well due to temperature and moisture.  So, starting with the next batch, we want to try growing seeds in the north and transplant them in the south. Another issue is that pesticides are only found in the chilli, not the seedlings, so we’d like to see if we can import seedlings. So we’re going to give it a shot next winter. Of course, we’ll try a variety of cold-resistant chillies side by side,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that if this doesn’t work, the government will proclaim that they’ll never be able to match the demand for chilli in the winter starting next year, as a result, the import prohibition will be abolished.

“It is not good when we are unable to produce and continue to impose the restrictions. It is simply murdering the regular people,” Lyonpo said.

The government discarded the chillies imported by private people because, under the law, everything brought in by an individual is illegal if the ban is not lifted.  The government dumps even if the chillies are under Minimum Residue Level (MRL) since it is illegal.

Lyonpo said that the country won’t be able to produce winter chillies, so they decided to test each consignment and import for another three months.

 “We are not lifting the ban, but rather reaffirming it. Individually imported chillies will be illegal if the restriction is not repealed, and BAFRA will confiscate them,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that to lift the prohibition, the government will need to verify, so the country is allowing it merely for peace of mind and to keep an eye on it.

As per Lyonpo, the farmers in the country has not be harmed by the move; rather, they are gaining from it.

To support farmers, the ministry urged FCBL to buy a kg of chillies for Nu 100. Farmers are receiving a supplement of Nu 20 to Nu 30.

During the summer, the import will not take place, but once winter hits, the government will.

“However, if the government allows the private sector to import chilli, we will be unable to test it since the private sector would never assist in chilli testing. Another point to consider is that the private sector would never import in quantity; instead, they will bring in boleros, resulting in more traffic. The FCBL will bring in a large truck and supply the dzongkhags,” Lyonpo said.

Every consignment from Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrup Jongkhar will be thoroughly examined. “In this approach, we defend consumers, market supplies, and the interests of farmers,” Lyonpo added.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that the country is observing an increase number of COVID-19 cases, the export and import of essential and non essential commodities operations is continuing without substantial disruption.

There are challenges in importing and exporting commodities, as per the Agriculture Minister, but the government is managing and importing the basic commodities as needed.

According to Lyonpo, there are occasional glitches, but the government does not foresee substantial disruption.

In the wake of two previous lockdowns, the government has developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

“The SOP is ready to be implemented. We will continue to have obstacles, but we will address them as they emerge. However, we anticipate there will be no substantial impact on imports and exports,” Lyonpo said, adding that the country has already imported the key goods and would continue to do so as needed.

Lyonpo added that there will be no disruption unless there are substantial restrictions across the border.

“At the present, we’re constantly importing chillies and exporting mandarin. So far, everything is running properly at all of the entry and exit gateways,” Lyonpo added.

The government is optimistic that exports will continue without major disruptions; mostly by the FCBL but also by the private traders. Wherever intervention is necessary, the ministry will provide the support.

Lyonpo stated, “When it comes to food supplies, there should be no shortages. We have a sufficient supply of food.”

In the meantime, all vehicles and drivers ferrying goods from one part of the country to another via India are escorted by the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) officials and DeSuups to ensure compliance with the containment protocol while in transit.

Secretary to Ministry of Home and Culture Affairs (MoHCA), Sonam Wangyel, who is also a Chairman of Southern COVID-19 Task Force, said that the export will not be hindered because the commodity is being transported outside in a strict confinement mode, which means that the vehicles will be escorted to Pasakha, MDP, and the Indian driver will take over from there. As a result, their movements are monitored on a daily basis.

“We have allowed both essential and non-essential commodities to be imported. We are expecting that neither export nor import will be hampered,” he said.

Meanwhile, in light of the threat posed by the Omicron variant, security around the southern borders and at Paro International Airport has been beefed up, and other measures have been implemented.

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