…Govt to survey the actual acreage decline this year

Horticulture: The agriculture ministry’s 11th Plan goal to enhance food and nutrition security through the production of fruits and nuts has crashed into the urbanisation hurdle.

Apple orchards are shrinking by the year in the four apple-growing districts mainly in Paro and Thimphu to other land use.

According to records with the ministry’s horticulture division, the number of apple trees has decreased between 2012 and 2014 from 306,181 to 277,670 trees.

The decrease is also recorded in the number of fruit bearing trees from 243,976 trees in 2012 to 217,317 last year.

Production records show a drop between 2013 and 2014 from 8,032MT to 7,051MT. Last year saw the lowest harvest in the past six years.

Agriculture officials attribute the decline mainly to construction of houses and other activities eating into orchard space.

The ministry has proposed to revise its target from 38,856MT to 22,234MT in the 11th Plan mainly because of a problem in the baseline considered during the planning stage.

Agriculture officials said the drop in the number of trees is a concern for the ministry.

“There are more than 26 fruits and nuts crops but investments are made only for eight priority fruit crops to bring in more focus and to promote commercialisation,” agriculture director general Nim Dorji said.

In the past few years, land prices in Thimphu and Paro have soared manifold encouraging landowners to convert their orchards into other landforms and sell.

For instance, land price in Debsi, Thimphu rose to Nu 0.3 million a decimal at one point.

Despite policy measures, agriculture officials said, the trend is irreversible.

Thimphu, Paro, Haa and Bumthang are the four major dzongkhags that grow apple. The integrated horticulture programme has some sporadic apple plantation in the eastern district but not in large volume.

Chief Horticulture officer, Kinley Tshering said that the acreage would be captured in the survey that the department carries out this year.

“Then we’ll know as to how much of the orchards have actually been lost to other activities,” the chief horticulture officer said.

Along with the figures of export and the income generated from it, import figures have grown too. In 2013, Bhutan imported 43.627MT of apples worth Nu 3.36M, which grew to 52.63MT worth Nu 6.2M last year.

Apple exporters, despite a good export price this year, say trade volume would reduce to half of what was sold last year mainly because of weather.

Tshering Palden