Chili: A burn­ing is­sue

Business Bhutan - - Editorial -

The re­cent chili im­port ban has raised some (lit­er­ally) burn­ing is­sues.

De­spite chili prices sky­rock­et­ing, the ban has come as a bless­ing first be­cause the amount of pes­ti­cide con­tent in the im­ports ex­ceeded per­mis­si­ble lim­its and would have had long-term im­pacts on peo­ple’s health had the ban not been im­posed.

It was good that the peti­cides were de­tected and im­me­di­ate ac­tion taken in the form of the ban for public good.

The se­cond is­sue that has come to light is that de­spite Bhutan be­ing an agrar­ian so­ci­ety with 60% of its pop­u­la­tion de­pend­ing on agri­cul­ture, Bhutan was in the throes of an acute chili short­age till this win­ter since the ban be­cause the lo­cal pro­duc­tion just wasn’t enough to meet the de­mand.

Chili is our sta­ple diet and to think that we could not grow enough to meet our own de­mand is a big blow to a goal we should cher­ish - self­suf­fi­ciency.

To pro­duce the re­quired quan­tity of chili, the coun­try has to cul­ti­vate at least 771 acres of land con­sid­er­ing the present pro­duc­tiv­ity rate of 1.98MT per acre.

The re­quire­ment for chili dur­ing win­ters is 1,527MT, and 2,291MT of chili is im­ported an­nu­ally.

When lo­cal pro­duc­tion could not meet de­mand, the prices of chili soared to as high as Nu 500/kg.

What then were the lessons we learnt from this ban and the ef­fects it pro­duced? We have to work harder if we ever have to be self-suf­fi­cient for even as sim­ple as a ba­sic need in Bhutan. We can’t af­ford to lie down and sim­ply watch as the dy­nam­ics of de­mand and sup­ply and prices wreck havoc on our so­ci­ety and econ­omy.

But what we have also learnt the harder way is: where there is a will there is a way. When im­ported eggs were banned years ago, eggs be­came costly. Soon how­ever, our poul­try farm­ers started pro­duc­ing eggs and very re­cently, we heard about the suc­cess­ful ex­port of lo­cal eggs to In­dia.

This goes to show that Bhutanese tend to be­come a bit lax when there are al­ter­na­tives avail­able, and while im­port­ing chili from Kolkata, which is sup­posed to be sold at Nu 50/kg can be a suc­cess­ful short-term mea­sure for con­sumers, what we need more than ever is a steady, con­tin­u­ous sup­ply of chili at rea­son­able prices that are lo­cally pro­duced.

Be­cause what if some­thing hap­pens at our source of im­port? What would hap­pen then? Would the Bhutanese diet change? No. We will be left to suf­fer an­other scram­ble for ex­pen­sive chilies in too short sup­ply.

Ev­ery­body needs a vi­sion. And our coun­try does too when it comes to be­ing self­suf­fi­cient in cer­tain ar­eas where it can def­i­nitely be.

At the end, what we need is to look to­ward the fu­ture: how we can deal with forth­com­ing needs, wants and de­mands.

Bhutan has proved that it can be done: look at the ex­am­ple of eggs. We can and should cer­tainly repli­cate this in an is­sue as “burn­ing” as chilies and the like!

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