… lack of proper fencing impedes maximum returns 

Kuensel reporters 

As their pineapple saplings start to bear fruits, a youth group commercial farm in Marpheng, Trashigang has all the reasons to grow more.

The group earned Nu 80,000 last year, this year since more saplings started to bear fruit they expect a better income. 

The group leader Kinga Wangchuk said of their 16.5 acres, 10 acres are dedicated to pineapple with more than 100,000 saplings.

The income generated from the sale of seedlings and fruits would be used to repay Nu 3.5M loan they availed over the years to run the farm.

According to the members the yield for pineapple and vegetables has been affected by the stray oxen and wild animals intruding into the farm and damaging the fruits as the solar fencing proved ineffective until they got a permanent chain link fence last year.

A farmer from Radhi, Kinzang Yeshi said that they were interested in growing pineapples after the BAIL office in Lingmethang in Mongar agreed to purchase their produce.

“We divided into three groups and each group planted more than 1,700 saplings. We are planning to extend cultivation next year.”

It is the first time they have been cultivating pineapple on a commercial scale. “While the government supports everything, we are taking the opportunity to grow pineapple on a large scale,” said another farmer Pema Dhendup.

He said that they wanted to grow pineapple as it is easy to grow and is not labour-intensive.

A 42-year old farmer from Mikuri, Pemagatshel, Jambay said that there was a market problem before BAIL came to buy their products.

“With a good market, most of the people are taking up pineapple plantations. We harvested 13 metric tonnes this year and earned about Nu 546,000,” he said, adding that they expect more from the coming harvest.

Farmers said that most of the farmers started growing pineapple since the BAIL committed to buying their produce.

BAIL assures market for farmers  

Bhutan Agro Industries Limited (BAIL) signed contracts in February this year with 20 groups of growers involving 332 households to grow pineapple and passion fruit.

These farmers will grow the fruits on a total of 209.7 acres of land in Pemagatshel, Mongar, Lhuentse, Trashigang and Trashiyangtse for three years and supply to the BAIL Lingmethang Plant in Mongar.

BAIL’s chief executive officer, Rinzin Dorji, said that the contract was signed with farmers to create cash crops for the farmers and organise the value chain of the agriculture sector.

He said that the contract assures the market for farmers’ production and encourages the revival of fallow land.

Rinzin Dorji said that Bhutan Agro collects the raw materials from the farmers which are converted to value-added products for sale in premium markets. “If we get a premium price for the products manufactured then the earnings will be ploughed back to the farmers.”

Currently, farmers sell pineapples at Nu 37 for a kilogram (kg) at the farm gate price and passion fruit at Nu 38 a kg to BAIL.

For factory gate price­–an arrangement where farmers bring the fruits to the factory, farmers get the farmgate price plus Nu 5 for every kg of the fruits.

Yearly, BAIL sources fruits and vegetables worth Nu 25 to 30 million from farmers.

BAIL is also providing growers of Yangbari in Mongar with chain-linked and electric fencing, and barbed to address human-wildlife conflicts.

Rinzin Dorji said that the company is also looking at other crops that farmers are producing and intents to make a similar contract farming system with them.

BAIL will buy whatever farmers can produce and work to diversify its products depending on the supply from the farmers, he said.

BAIL signed contracts with 15 households in Bumthang to supply strawberries and is working on carrot supply as well. The company is also working to get Grown in Bhutan and Bhutan Natural marks for their products.

A farmers’ group in Yangbari in Gongdue gewog, Mongar that has signed a contract with BAIL is doing well.

Initially set up by a cluster of about 20 farmers individually in about 15 acres of the field the group sold more than seven metric tonnes (the highest among the farmers in the east last season) to the BAIL’s subsidiary company in Lingmethang, Mongar.

After signing the contract, the number of farmers also increased to 52 households and they agreed to increase the cultivation area to 58 acres.

BAIL in collaboration with the forestry office supports electric fencing, one of the main challenges which farmers face is wild animals.

The chairperson of the group in Yangbari, Sangay Chophel, said after the field has a proper fence, the construction of which is underway, the members are willing to increase the production.

With Bhutan Agro signing a contract with 10 farmers’ groups initially, officials said BAIL is expecting adequate supply to fulfil the requirement of the plant by 2024.