Choki Wangmo & Phub Dem

In the last few years, apple production has continued to plummet in Thimphu, Paro, and Haa.

This year is no different. Farmers are in for the worst.

Taw Tshering has sold about 70 boxes of apple last year. This year, his nine-acre orchard with 500 trees in Yusipang are yellow and lean.

He said although the weather was favourable this year, the yield was the worst. “The flowering was timely, though,” he said.

Another orchard owner in Hongtsho said she gave up tending to the plants since it failed last year. She is a roadside vendor and apples from her 50-decimal orchard are sold there. She said that the yield was decreasing since five years ago. “Apples develop a dark patch and becomes non-edible. I think it is a disease,” she said, adding that she sprayed pesticides even.

All apple-growing gewogs has complained about the bad yield.

Mangmi of Genekha gewog in Thimphu, Khandu, said that the yield was only 35 percent. He blamed hailstorm that destroyed the flowers in May.

According to RNR census report 2019, Thimphu has 578 apple growers with 57,886 trees from which 46,383 are fruit bearing. Last year, the apple production was 755.24 metric tonnes (MT). Maedwang gewog produced the highest number of apples at 4,20,271 kilogrammes.

Ap Gyatshay in Shari, Paro is known for his large apple orchard with about 150 trees. Usually, at this time of the year, he would be plucking them, as local buyers collect the fruit from the orchard.

The poor yield this year has, however, left many farmers like Gyatshay frustrated. Apple is one of the essential cash crops in Paro.

Last year, Gyatshay sold 250 boxes of apples to local buyers who then exported it to India and Bangladesh. Each basket weighs 20 kilogramme, which is more than Nu 500.

Gyatshay expects only two baskets of apple from his orchard this year. “There are only one to two apples in each tree. And the production is poor everywhere.”

Gyem from Wangchang gewog has a similar story to share. She said: “I am storing the apples for my family and relatives. There is nothing left to sell.”

She added that last year she earned about Nu 80,000 from her small apple orchard.

The situation is no different in Haa. Karma Dorji has two orchards with about 300 apple trees in Tshilungkha in Eusu gewog. He said the production was relatively poor.

If productions are enormous, he sells the apples in two seasons. “During harvest, I auction apple orchard while storing majority of the portion for winter.”

This year, he has plans to store. “If I sell in autumn, I think the yield won’t even fetch me Nu 40,000. In winter, I can earn about Nu 100,000 from 20 to 30 baskets,” he added.

He said the production was decreasing by the year.

The dzongkhag agriculture office did not receive any official complaint from farmers but Paro’s agriculture officer, Tandin, said that the production was comparatively low, as the yield was substantial last year.

The production, according to him, rotates each year. “The yield was poor in 2018 but huge last year. And it is low this time.”

Proper irrigation channel, soil fertility, and wind direction among other factors are responsible for the yield. “Major apple orchards in Paro lacks proper irrigation channel,” Tandin said.

Some farmers doubt continuous rain for falling of flowers. Tandin, however, said that rain was, in fact, vital during pollination and it cannot shed the flowers.

National fruits and nuts coordinator, with the agriculture department, Sangay Dendup, said that fruiting could be affected due to hailstorm during flowering season and also because of sudden change in temperature triggered by the current pandemic. “As the economic activities closed down, there was drop in temperature and change in weather conditions which could have affected the pollination.”

The department is yet to carry out technical assessments.

The RNR census report 2019 noted that among the fruit crops, apple, once a major fruit crop in Bhutan, now stands nowhere in the competition to other crops like mandarin. Last year, the highest number of growers was in Paro (32.24 percent), Trashiyangtse (10.55 percent), and Thimphu (10.45 percent). Paro (65.62 percent) and Thimphu (20.50 percent) account for the highest production of apples.

The apple production trend according to RNR census report 2019 is decreasing. From 7,051MT in 2014 to 3,684.42MT last year.