Chili prices hit a new high

Business Bhutan - - Market - Pema Sel­don from Thim­phu

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.

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