Chili: A burning issue
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!