Almost 10 days after the apple export season began, those involved say the business is not doing well.
An apple supplier, Pawan Puddar with UT Enterprise, who supplies apple to West Bengal, said the market is not very good this year. “Apple from Shimla and Himachal are already in the market,” he said. “Usually, Bhutanese apples come into the market before Indian apples.”
He also claimed that the quality of the Bhutanese apple is not as expected at the moment. “The produce is yet to bear its full red colour.”
Another supplier, Rahul of KP Enterprise, said it would take about a week for the fully ripen Bhutanese apples to hit the market.
He said that he lifted about 3,000 boxes of apple from Phuentsholing as of yesterday. A box has 20kg of apple.
Most apples go to the local markets in Siliguri, Falakatta, Cooch Bihar, Dhupguri, Mainaguri, and Alipur.
A box of good quality apple fetches Nu 750 to Nu 800. The smaller and inferior quality apple fetches Nu 350 to Nu 400 a box.
An apple grower from Paro, Yeshey, who is also a supplier, said the harvest this year is not as good as last year’s although it was not affected by any diseases.
“We buy at Nu 500 a box from farmers,” he said, explaining it is sold at Nu 750 in Phuentsholing.
He said that when the apples reach Phuentsholing, grading matters. When the grading is done, the apples are categorised into the good and average category. The lower category fetches Nu 350 to Nu 400.
Yeshey said they have to bear the loss as suppliers.
Another supplier and grower from Paro, Sangay Thinley, said his orchard does not have much this year. “I export only to Bangladesh.”
He said his first consignment of about three to four metric tonnes (MT) of apples would get dispatched soon. “All Bangladesh consignments will be dispatched on the same day after receiving Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) certifications.”
The government fixed the rate this year for apple export to Bangladesh at USD 550 a MT.
According to records with the Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA), Bhutan exported 2,724MT of apples worth USD 1.28 million (M) to India and Bangladesh in 2016. About 1,559.80MT of apples worth USD 703,668.70 were exported to India and 1,164.20MT of apples worth USD 583,750 to Bangladesh.
In the last one decade, apple production in 2014 was the highest with the country exporting 6,772.42MT of apples worth USD 4.40M. Compared to this huge export season, 2015 and 2016 saw a drastic decline. Bhutan was able to export 2,896.19MT apples worth USD 1.35M in 2015.
In 2016, problems of political unrest faced by apple growers in Shimla and Kashmir in India had benefitted growers in Bhutan. Apple prices soared to a record high of Nu 1,000 to Nu 1,200 per box in September last year.
Indian suppliers in Phuentsholing, however, say the price would not be that high this year.
They reason that the recent rain that caused floods in West Bengal and Assam weakened the market. “The Gorkha Janmukti Agitation has also affected the market,” Rahul said.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing