Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Bhutanese Obsession with Chili - How climate change will impact its cultivation by 2050?

'Ema Datshi'; Bhutanese chili cheese curry would top the list of favorite dish. The Bhutanese obsession with chili stems from the fact that it is deeply ingrained in our culture. Parents would assign their children the first sign of growth and bravery to being able to gallop down some chili curries. The dose and the interest to eat more follows sequentially with each round of applause from the parents or elders. Those who detest or fail to ingest chilies are looked down with being immature or mocked with words that can demoralize the child. 

Indeed, a heap of appreciation from parents and the twinkling glaze of satisfactory achievement in children's eye are the basic foundation for the high Bhutanese chili palatability. Ema datshi would be the only indisputable dish available on the table on any occasion. It also acts an appetizer; invoking more to be rolled down along it. That is why many claim that they can eat more when they are served ema datshi or Ezay or raw chillies along with food.

Many Bhutanese are holding contradictory views against the government's ban on chili import. Well, this is a very wise decision. Bhutanese people have been consuming chemical-loaded Indian chilies for a very long time. When Indian chilies gets rejected to the International market owing to the stringent tests and accordingly the products exceeding the maximum residue level, it had no problem entering the Bhutanese market. Why? Our country did not have the sophisticated equipment for testing. Not knowing that the toxic materials are being accumulated bit by bit every time we consume such products, we succumb to a chronic malfunction in our body when eventually our body cannot take the last trace of toxic material. And what do we do? We simply attribute the mishap solely to karmic residue. In fact, it is the toxic material residue, not karmic residue, that goes on accumulating in our system and disrupts it ultimately. Such toxic materials doesn't get eliminated easily as our excretion does.

Now, in lieu of the aforementioned facts, there is a huge demand being placed on the Bhutanese producers. The situation aftermath the import ban witnessed a huge outcry on the shortage as well as the affordability of chilies produced within. In fact, price per kilogram of chili shot to as high as 700-800 Ngultrum earlier this season. It is a big relief to the consumers as the price has stabilized now. 

During the peak production season, the price might drop drastically with glut in the market. However, consumption of negligible quantities of Indian chilies seems inevitable even during our own production season as many of the Bhutanese taste buds are after the fiery hot Indian chilies. I think there is a need for advocacy and awareness on the health hazards associated with it. 

Bhutanese people are so fond of eating imported chilies at the cost of their own health. The behavior is similar in traders alike consumers. Consumers are madly in search of pungent Indian chilies that the traders, a few lucky ones manage to conceal and dispense for their consumers at a higher rate. Many were found hidden elsewhere in black plastics. My sister once brought me chilies, around 250g. She got it from a vegetable seller, who managed to pull it from beneath her chair, the knot firmly tied that she was unable to open it for ascertaining the quality. The seller ensured that it is of top quality while she averted her head here and there in fear of inspectors. Perhaps in the due course of time, our taste buds might get acclimatized to the degree of pungency of our own Bhutanese chilies, and the longing for top pungent imported chilies ebb eventually.

The reason why the pinch for the import ban on cauliflower and bean wasn't felt as much as that of chilies might be on account of the fact that these are the vegetable commodities the people can do away with as long as there are other alternatives. However, chilies in any form; raw, dried, pickled or powdered form is a mandatory ingredient of the Bhutanese cuisine.

The MoAF is putting in tremendous efforts in bridging the gap after its conscious decision on the import ban. The mass production of chilies started in certain belts of the country. Some individual farmers converted their entire potato farmland to chili production plot after the ban. Every individual, who owned a piece of land for gardening, consciously expanded the acreage for chili production. The ministry has imported cold tolerant varieties from abroad, which are under testing at various field stations.

The assessment and planning workshop for winter chili production has been completed. Scheduled plan for chili nursery establishment is underway with the nurseries of hybrid seeds been raised in the first week of August. This will continue on a staggered basis and the warmers belts of the country might see their lands covered by chili plants this winter, provided the arid wintry conditions find other means of irrigation.

Nevertheless, this is just a short-term measure. Bhutan is no exception to the brunt of climate change. The carbon negative status of this speck in the ocean of other nations is not going to hold us from bearing the consequences. Global warming has taken its toll; we already have experienced glacial lake outbursts and floods. This change in the trend of global climate is going to impact food production to a large extent. A recent study by a team of officials from the MoAF and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) on the crop climatic suitability is clearly indicative of the change. Impacts of climate change on climatic suitability of priority commodities like Potato, Quinoa, Kiwi, Chilli, Tomato, & Cardamom were carried out. The link to the entire report is available at https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/80918.

Chili Current Climatic Suitability & Future Projections (2050)
In addition to the already existing challenges to chili production, Bhutan is going to witness a shift in the chili climatic suitability. The warmer (Southern) belts are expected to experience loss in suitable areas, probably due to net increase in the global temperatures. On the contrary, the cooler belts in the North will be able to grow crops that didn't grow in the past. While the areas that observe loss in suitable areas will have to search for other alternatives or resort to the cultivation of heat tolerant ones; people in the North might have to keep on exploring the climatic suitability of new crops.
A slight discrepancies might be there in the map for we used the FAO parameters with minimal changes form our side and climate data from Worldclim for the analysis since we don't have our own. However, I can see a good correlation in the current suitable areas under cultivation.
Current Chili Climatic Suitability map

FAO parameters used for the analysis.

Chili climatic suitability: current; future & the change using rcp 4.5
Chili climatic suitability: current; future & the change using rcp 8.5.
Chili Suitability map in 1994-1995, according to an information from Integrated Horticulture Development Project (the first map) against that of 2016 (2nd map) and the change/gain in suitable areas (the last map)