Chhimi Dema 

Finding it difficult to sell their apples and with lower export prices this year, farmers are selling apples to Bhutan Agro Industries Limited (BAIL) at Nu 20 per kilogramme (kg).

Although the company buys apples from farmers every year, they had to buy more this year to create a market for the farmers.

Over a period beginning in August through September 20, Bhutan Agro has purchased 432 metric tonnes (MT) of apples out of a targeted figure of 519MT.

General manager of Bhutan Agro’s support department for farmers, Kezang Tshering, said the purchase this year will exceed their target.

He said farmers are bringing both export quality and ‘reject’ apples, which do not meet export quality, for sale this year. “We are planning to buy 200MT more than the set target.”

Kezang Tshering said that the company has a social mandate and will buy produce if farmers bring it for sale.

In 2020, BAIL’s annual purchase target was 800MT, but they could only buy 205MT due to low apple production that year.

Most of the apples are used to produce juice or mixed fruit jam.

Farmer Sonam, 60, from Dawakha in Paro, said that before, the farm sold only the “reject” apples to Bhutan Agro. “The apples that we are selling today are second-grade apples that we usually export to India.”

He brought 45 sacks of apples that weighed 30 to 50kg.

Sonam said Nu 20 a kg is selling the produce at a loss, but it is better to have a market than to let the apples spoil and go to waste at home.

Another farmer from Dawakha, Kinley, said that he would fetch about Nu 140,000 from Bhutan Agro for the approximately 7,000kg of apples he brought to sell.

“From one sack of apples, I might earn a profit of Nu 50,” he said, adding that the earnings a year ago was more than Nu 200,000 for 7,000kg.

Kinley said the export price this year is not good. He explained, “While exporting, we have to buy crates for packaging and bear the transportation cost. Those amount to extra expense and losses.”

About a year ago, a box of apples for export earned more than Nu 1,500, whereas today it might earn Nu 600 to Nu 900.

Rather than bearing the export cost, he said, it has been more profitable to sell to Bhutan Agro.

Some of the farmers sold good quality apples using social media and brought “reject” apples to Bhutan Agro.

According to the Agriculture Statistics 2020, a total of 4,056MT of apples was produced last year. Paro and Thimphu produced 88 percent of the total production. Paro produced 2,790MT of apples, while Thimphu produced 767MT.