The recent field test on a few vegetables by the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) has confirmed high pesticides and chemical level contained in vegetables, like beans and cauliflower whose import has been stopped. While importa Chillies also had high pesticide levels their import has not yet been stopped.
Similarly, BAFRA will be conducting field test on other vegetables coming into Bhutan from all entry points, namely Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.
A thorough test will be done for pesticide content, and only after clearing the permissible level set by BAFRA, will the vegetables be distributed and sold in Bhutan.
“Any vegetable showing an unreasonable amount of chemical content would be banned from the import list,” BAFRA stated.
Such a stern resolution came into force after the laboratory tests, both in India and Thailand, confirmed high content of pesticide residue in most of the imported vegetables from India.
Apart from pesticides in vegetables there are also issues of coloring and chemicals being used in vegetables and fruits imported from India.
There are already many individual anecdotes from Bhutanese of the colour coming off certain vegetables while washing or cooking them. Fruits are also a popular target with colour being used to give them a better look and higher price. The concern with such colors are that very often they are toxic and can harm the health of people.
Media reports from India show a thriving underground industry that tampers with fruits and vegetables to make them look better often using harmful chemicals.
With it being a border area and Bhutan importing heavily there so far has been no such check on such illegal practices across the border.
The temporary ban on vegetable import of cauliflower and beans, as per the agriculture ministry, is in favor of all Bhutanese so they can work on ways to make an optimal use of the fallow lands in the country to grow vegetables.
“Consumers might face small problems, especially when they have been purchasing imported vegetables at cheaper rate, but the problems should be converted into opportunities by producing our own home grown vegetables,” stated the Department of Agriculture (DoA).
Most of the vegetable vendors have unanimously agreed that the import of vegetables from other countries has, so far, discouraged farmers in Bhutan in growing vegetables on a commercial scale.
“The imported vegetables not only pose as health hazards, but also trigger Rupee outflow,” stated the DoA.
Under initiatives set by DoA, most vegetable markets in the country are increasingly selling vegetables grown locally at this time of year, from June to September.
In order to boost home grown vegetable supply, the ministry encourages farmers to form various groups and cooperatives, which would help a great deal in terms of quality, grading and sorting.
Bhutan has rich agro-ecological zones rising from the hot and humid sub-tropical zone in south to the cold mountains of alpine zone in the north. Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Haa, Gasa, Trongsa, Zhemgang, Bumthang, Mongar, Lhuentse, Trashigang, Trashiyantse, Pemagatsel have a huge potential of producing summer vegetables.
While winter vegetables can be sourced from Samtse, Sarpang, Samdrupjongkhar, parts of Chukha, Dagana, Tsirang, Wangduephodrang and Punakha to keep the market afloat.
There are also plans by the agriculture ministry to boost internal vegetables production through provisions of major services and interventions. These include linking vendors of Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) with local producers, up scaling productions and supplying vegetables from government farms.
Agriculture ministry is also providing support, in terms of seeds and seedlings, irrigation facilities, transportation subsidy, marketing equipment, minimum support price, etc.