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Bhutanese chilies an all-time hot favourite

By Chimi Wangmo

Sergithang Gewog in Tsirang has become a hotbed for Bhutanese chilies, or popularly known as the Sha ema.

A farmer, Dhan Ghalley, from Sergithang reported that early Bhutanese chilli (Sha Ema), the most preferred spice in our Bhutanese diet has been booming at their village in Tsirang for the last two years.

The chilies have been cultivated in an area of 21.0 acres at three potential villages including Rilangthang, Tashithang and Sergithang Maed.

While agriculture officials said the crop had potential to grow in other parts of the gewog as well, most were cultivated by people living in low lying areas as it is more favourable.  

The crop is grown twice a year, early and seasonal, and do not required much rainfall. However, agriculture officials had observed that the practice of growing and selling chilies was a new trend and that farmers were gradually learning the nuances of cultivating the crop.

It was observed that the produces are supplied to Thimphu CFM, Wangdue and Khuruthang by the local vendors. A few outside vendors have also started visiting from Paro and Haa.

Considering it as an early crop and to provide consumers an affordable price for the product, the Dzongkhag fixed the price at Nu 350 a kilo early last month.

Nonetheless, it was observed that the exorbitant prices in the market were traced out with the vendors paying beyond the quoted price, basically to grasp the quantity one after another.

Agriculture officials said among many other vegetables, chilli has been a good source of income in the community since last year. This has proven more profitable compared to cardamom and other cash crops in the gewog.

It also stated that the cultivation practices may sustain generations as the crop is proven feasible in the gewog where farmers can generate huge income in a short period of time.

โ€œThis year, about 60 households from three locations started the crops producing satisfactory yields with satisfactory rate. A few farmers acknowledged the gewog agriculture centre stating that they would be able to generate an income of 0.3 M from two rolls of mulching sheet (Which is supposed to have generated from 100 sq. m of land),โ€ agriculture officials said.

The entire households from the villages grow chillies, both big and small hybrid. Mostly, the big chilli is grown early to catch the prices. This can be taken into account for seasonal cultivation.

All the growers use plastic mulching to evacuate chilling effects such as dwarf/stunted plant growth, moisture loss in winter and weed pressure. In addition, there are many challenges to be taken care of while starting the cultivation right from nursery to transplanting at the field.

In the midst of the pandemic, the agriculture ministry assisted the growers with required facilities through the Economic Contingency Plan and GCF, besides providing them with constant technical assistance.

The crop is grown on a commercial level with a minimum of one roll of plastic mulching by individual households to a maximum of 8 rolls of mulching sheets covering an area of 20 decimal to 2.0 acres.

In 2020, it was the first crop as a trial in the gewog with few selected potential households in Tashithang and Sergithang Maed. The crop harvest was promising with a good income.

Chilies from the East

Apart from Sergithang Gewog in Tsirang, a variety of vegetables such as chilli, onion, tomato and other commodities can be grown in Pemathang gewog, Samdrup Jongkhar even during the winter months.

Agriculture Extension Supervisor od Samdrup Jongkhar said the gewog has many vegetable groups of which Raling Tshesay Detshen constitut- ing 15 members (7 females and 8 males) and Pemathang Tshesay Detshen constituting 6 members (1 female and 5 male) are two active groups in the gewog.

These groups were initially formed in 2017 as vegetable production groups but remained inactive due to marketing chal- Chilli cultivation picks up in

In 2019, the group saw an opportunity to earn through selling chilli due to the ban on imported chilli and other commodities. The groups were restored and began mass chilli cultivation in a 3 acres of land with fund support from CARLEP-IFAD and technical assistance from the former gewog agriculture extension.

Under the vegetable intensification program, the groups received inputs support including seed, mulching plastics, green net, efficient irrigation materials including drip and sprinklers, and green houses and low-cost polyhouse from CARLEP-IFAD on a cost-sharing basis where 80% of the total cost is borne by the project and the rest by the beneficiary.

In April 2019, the groups began raising the nursery of hybrid chilli (GARMI-7) and SHP-4884 in the polyhouse. Both groups transplanted chilli seedlings at recommended spacing on 1 acre and 2 acres of land using plastic mulching.

The Raling group has produced 2 MT of chillies in 2019-2020 and earned an income of Nu. 600,000 whereas the Pemathang group produced 0.9 MT of chillies and earned about Nu.270,000.

Considering the promising income-generating opportunities in chilli especially due to the pandemic situation when chilli fetches Nu.300 a kilo on an average, both groups have expanded their area of chilli cultivation. While the Raling group expanded the cultivation from 1 to 10 acres on government leased land, the Pemathang group expanded from 2 to 15 acres during 2020-2021.

From March till the mid of May 2021, the Raling group has produced 1.1 MT of chillies and Pemathang group produce 1.3 MT. They made an income of Nu.330,000 and Nu.384,000 respectively.

The group sells chilli at a local market, Samdrup Jongkhar town and in other Dzongkhags including Trashigang and Pemagatshel.

Both groups are planning to extend their market outreach to more Dzongkhags such as Trashiyangtse, Mongar and Lhuentse to meet the demand for imported chilli. As the market demands more chilli amid the COVID19 pandemic, the groups plan to work harder and are expecting to yield 15 MT of chilli this peak season.

Mulching plays a vital role to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature and minimize weed thereby saving the labor cost.

There are different methods of mulching: the most commonly used are plastic mulching, paddy straw and debris of plants.

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