Phub Dem | Haa

It is apple season but apple growers in Haa are losing their business as apple trees are dying.

With the short growing season, many farmers in Haa grow apples as a cash crop.

Farmers who depend heavily on apples are already switching to alternative cash crops such as carrot, tomato and potato.

Gyem from Namchu said that her orchard bore no fruit this year and her 100 apple trees are dying. All her apple trees are infected. “I don’t know what is causing the infection.”

According to Tashi Dema from Katsho gewog, the apple growers had trouble selling the fruit last year. Only 30 out of her 120 apple trees are still not infected. She had to cut down the infected trees.

The disease infect leaves and twigs, drying and killing them slowly.

Tashi’s apple trees are about 20-years-old.

Although the farmers sought help from gewog agriculture extension officers, Tashi Dema said that the only solution was to trim the infectious branches, which didn’t help. “The agriculture officers asked us to cut down all the infected trees. I have already registered for new saplings.”

As there is no other way to protect the trees, the farmers have to wait for about a decade before they can harvest the fruits again.

Farmers used to easily make Nu 80,000 from a small orchard. “Forget about selling. We now have to buy apples for the annual ritual.”

Tshering’s orchard had 300 trees, half infected. Her orchard usually grows big and healthy apples due to the presence of a bee farm. Not this time. “Last year, only a few trees dried up. This time, we are losing all our trees.”

According to dzongkhag agriculture officer, Karchung, orchard management is a crucial component for healthy trees. He said that apple growers in Haa had been practising agroforestry – growing pastures in apple orchards which was not recommended for the apples.

He said that the dzongkhag agriculture office was aware of the problem and the field officials trained and educated the farmers on orchard management. He added that most apple trees are old and there is a decline in production. “But we are yet to confirm what caused the drying.”

According to the RNR census report 2019, among the fruit crops, apple, once a major fruit crop in Bhutan, now stands nowhere compared with other cash crops.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk