Chili prices hit a new high
Local chili prices hit a new high this week after imported chilies were banned with current prices fluctuating between Nu 300-Nu 500 per kilogram (kg) at the centenary farmers’ market.
After people started consuming other varieties of chili like cherry pepper (dalley), its cost has also shot up to Nu 100 for 25gms and Nu 400 a kg. This has left people scurrying for alternatives like chili powder, which comes much cheaper at Nu 60 per packet.
Apart from chilies, the prices of certain other local vegetables like cauliflower and beans have also shot up in recent times. Cauliflowers are now sold at Nu 250 per kg and beans at Nu 180 per kg. This has already started affecting Bhutanese consumers.
“I understand that local production should be increased and imports reduced,” said a frustrated consumer, “What I don’t understand is why sellers are allowed to charge unjustifiable amounts knowing very well that buyers have no choice at all but to pay whatever is demanded.” Chili, he added, is a necessity, not a luxury in Bhutan.
However, Minister of Agriculture and Forests, Yeshey Dorji, said that the authorities are fully aware that local vegetables are very expensive and no price regulations have been put in place but there are number of reasons for this.
First, price regulation and fixation falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and second, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests wants to encourage farmers to increase local vegetable production, and price regulation might discourage farmers from up scaling their production.
Two weeks ago, a group of vegetable sellers requested the agriculture ministry to lift the ban on import of green chili; however, the ministry informed them that they are reviewing the situation. According to Lyonpo, assessments on the pesticide content are still underway.
Pesticide content in other vegetables is within permissible limits so they are not banned and are safe for consumption.
“But setting a maximum price for certain crops may be recommended,” said Lyonpo though for now, the ministry will not be lifting the ban on import of green chilies.
The ministry is looking at various options to make safe chilies available. For instance, it is exploring other countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Nepal to import chilies.
“If the chilies are safe and come at affordable prices, it will be imported from these countries as well,” said Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji. Meanwhile, vegetable sellers are cashing in on the crisis.
“In my 27 years of selling vegetables, I have never seen chili prices soar this high. Last year at this time, chili cost Nu 100 to 180 per kg, but this year prices have doubled and even tripled,” said Aum Zam, a vegetable seller at CFM.
Dorji, a chili supplier from Punakha said: “We had no option but to raise the price of our local produce. This is the only time where we get an opportunity to earn money. We work hard and our products are fresh and organic.”
Kencho Tashi, another vendor said that if the government does not intervene, the prices are expected to rise further.”
According to Kencho Tashi, chili is limited in supply and suppliers have increased the prices of their local produce especially chili, cauliflower and beans.
“We had to rush to the suppliers to get chili for this week and I got only half a sack which cost Nu 5,000. Last month, a full sack cost only Nu 1,200,” he said.
A report from the Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives states that Bhutan exported 15.85tons of chili to India and imported 2,689.94 tons of chili from India last year before the ban.