Chimi Dema  | Dagana

For the first time, after more than three decades of citrus business, Santa Bir Tamang is struggling to find buyers. Usually, the farmer from Kana gewog in Dagana would have sold the entire orchard by now.

“But today, no vendors have come looking for oranges this time,” he said. “It might be due to the pandemic, I suppose.”

Until last year, he used to earn at least Nu 250,000 from the 300 citrus trees in his orchard.

“I was expecting to earn around Nu 400,000 this time as the fruiting is better, but now I’m worried,” he said.

Santa Bir Tamang earned enough from selling oranges to raise his family for the past three decades.

Worried about the market, another farmer in Tashiding, Ganga Prasad Gurung who has about 1,500 citrus trees sold the entire orchard to a vendor at Nu 225,000.

At least three vendors used to appear at his door to negotiate the price at this time of the year. “This year there was only one,” he said. 

Goshi gewog also recorded a bumper harvest from improved management, adequate water and manure.

“This year, I am expecting around Nu 40,000,” a villager said. “I remain hopeful that the concerned agencies would help us.”

In preparation for orange export, the dzongkhag agriculture sector was tasked to work on the expected production of oranges this year.

Dzongkhag agriculture officials said that the report would be submitted to the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) soon.

Seven gewogs submitted an expected production of more than 440 metric tonnes (MT) so far. Khebisa is expected to produce almost 200MT the highest among the gewogs.

Meanwhile, the stakeholders meeting coordinated by DAMC to strategise seamless orange export amid the Covid-19 pandemic have come up with three strategies.

The DAMC’s Chief Marketing Officer,  Younten Jamtsho said that given the difficulty for Bangladeshi importers to visit the country in light of the pandemic, it was decided that they need not come here to regulate the quality of oranges like in the past.

“Instead, the relevant stakeholders involving DAMC,  Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) and exporters would regulate and ensure that only good oranges are exported,” he said.

Younten Jamtsho said that they would also meet with registered exporters from different regions and ask them to inform their counterparts in Bangladesh about this change.

“However, if importers do not agree with the decision, we would need to facilitate their visit and ensure that they follow safety protocols,” he said. 

If none of these options works, he said they would propose to the government to buy back the cash crop so that farmers are not affected.

“Keeping it for ourselves and considering making it into pulp by the National Post Harvest Center is one of the options if the government cannot export after buying back,” he said.

“The orange pulp, which is a concentrated form, can be stored for about a year and used for processing juices,” he said. “We would ask Bhutan Agro Industry Limited to buy if the government cannot find a market.”

Younten Jamtsho said that the government could also consider opening numerous trade routes including Lhamoizingkha, and Sibsoo to facilitate transportation of orange during the export season.

“We’d meet again next week to see if importers agree with us and the transit route in India would allow the movement, and also to finalise our strategies,” he said. “Hopefully, our export will go as usual.”

He said that the agencies were also keeping in touch with the Indian counterpart to facilitate export during strikes.

Bhutan Export Association general secretary, Tshering Yeshi said that in an effort to help growers and exporters, the agriculture ministry and other agencies have assured to facilitate the export of oranges and mobilise the required manpower.

Going by the renewable natural resources statistics 2019, Bhutan has exported over 15,000MT of oranges to India and Bangladesh last year. Of the total, more than 14,000MT was exported to Bangladesh.