As the apple season is almost over, exporters are battling a drop in the price due to the influx of apples from the Indian states of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.

Along with stiff competition, exporters also say Bhutanese packing and grading is below standard, which has degraded the market price.

A manager of export house Pelayang Tshongkhang, Ashok, said the prices today range from Nu 300 to Nu 600. Between September 14 and September 23, the prices ranged from Nu 650 and Nu 1,100.

“Although Bhutanese apple is renowned for its organic taste, the quality of apple is not good due to bad packing,” he said.

Ashok said apple growers do not maintain the plucking and packing quality because apple is seasonal for them and farmers also do not consider apple as the primary source of income. “In India, people work throughout the year to maintain the quality.”

An exporter, Singye Wangdi, said he is planning to pack apples in carton boxes from next year, just as it is done in India.

“If packed properly, Bhutanese apples will never fail in the market,” he said adding that plucking has to improve. “Badly plucked apples rot faster.”

Singye Wangdi said the highest prices today are Nu 600 to Nu 750 a box. A box contains about 17-18kg.

A supplier, who buys apples from farmers and sell it to exporters in Phuentsholing, Shivalal Mongar, said that labour problem is the biggest challenge in apple trade.

“I always ask workers to pluck and pack properly,” he said. “When I am in front of them they work properly but when I am away they do not put in the same effort.”

However, labourers in Bhutan demand more payment.

A manager with UT Export, Surender Shah, said they have not been able to sell one consignment for the last three days. “This season is not as good as last year.”

He said they sell without grading. “However, grading is an important procedure that exporters have to maintain for better prices.”

UT Export has sold about 13,000 boxes of apples this season. Without the season already coming to an end, the manager said there is not much to expect this year.

Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited used to provide auction facility but the corporation left it to private players as they were able to market apples themselves.

The general secretary with Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA), Tshering Yeshi, said that grading is one of the challenges today.

“We even supplied cardboard boxes in 2009 but exporters have their own reasons not to use it,” he said. “The Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) had supported us.”

Tshering Yeshi said that exporters find it expensive. “In some cases, importers also do not want to use the cardboard boxes.”

Bhutan exported about 2,724 metric tonnes (MT) of apples worth USD 1.28 million (M) to India and Bangladesh in 2016. Bhutan had exported about 2,896.19MT apples worth USD 1.35M in 2015.

In 2014, Bhutan exported 6,772.42MT of apples worth USD 4.40M, the highest in the last decade.

Meanwhile, exporters say the season would wrap up by mid-October this year.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing