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Trashigang: Chili production - Red and dried
Zordung villagers pack dry chilies in sacks
Almost every roof in Zordung, a village in Kangpara gewog, Trashigang, turns fiery red at this time of the year as chilies dry in the winter sun.

Chili, a must ingredient for the Bhutanese palate, is the main farm produce of Kangpara and of all the villages in the gewog, Zordung, produces the most of this essential vegetable.

In Zordung, an eight-hour walk from Phekpari in Thrimshing dungkhag, more than 60 households convert half their harvest into dry red chilies.

The villagers do so because dry chilies had its advantages. They harvest the crop only after it has ripened into a flaming red colour and then dry it in the sun.

"Fresh green chilies need to be either sold or eaten within a few days of harvest," said 60-year-old Tashi Lhamo. "Most of the villagers here produce their own chilies so if we are not able to carry it to the market we cannot sell it. By drying it we prevent it from getting spoiled."

By the end of October and beginning of November, chilies start turning red and are dried not only on the rooftops but also on ground.

Villagers said that from the first harvest in August and September, only about 25 percent of their harvest were sold fresh. The rest were dried.

"As the first harvest falls during the rainy season we face a lot of problems transporting the crop on horseback to Phekpari," said a village elder, Kezang. From there it is taken in trucks to markets in Wamrong and Samdrup Jongkhar.

"By the time it reaches the market the damp chilies start to rot and it does not get good prices," added Kezang. "Sometimes the horses slip on the muddy trail soiling the crop and breaking the chillies."

In contrast dried chilies were easier to carry and fetched better prices. Dried chilies, for example, fetched between Nu. 80 ? Nu. 120 a kilogramme whereas fresh chilies were sold for not more than Nu. 20 a kilogramme.

However, making dry chilies had its own drawbacks.

"It is risky, especially if it rains," said Tashi Lhamo. "It will destroy the entire harvest."

She said that drying also involved extra work and attention. "If it becomes too dry it breaks easily," she said, adding that water was sprinkled when it was carried in sacks to prevent extreme dryness.

Villagers also store the dry crop as the main winter vegetable. Some also simmered dry chilies in hot water, which turns white after it is dried, for home consumption.

Red dry chilies were also kept as seeds and sown several months before the planting season. According to 70-year-old Jangchub Dorji, fresh chilies were once in great demand in the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar. "But later Indians across the border sowed chili seeds from Kangpara and came up with a similar crop which was sold at a much cheaper price," he said.

Jangchub Dorji said that this had further encouraged villagers to make more dry chilies. While some places in Trashiyangtse also produced homegrown chilies, he said that the timing did not coincide with the chili harvest in Kangpara.

"And theirs cannot be made into dry chilies because it is fleshy and even if it was dried it would not be as tasty," he said.

Kangpara gup Chempa Dorji said that every household produced about four to five sacks of dried chilies but most had problems transporting it to the market.

Trashigang dzongkhag is preparing to launch about 100 sacks of red dry chilies from the gewog in the Thimphu vegetable market from the next season to expand the market for Kangpara's red and dried.

This article was contributed by Kesang Dema KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006
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