A Kabisa resident, Kinley Zam, 46, remembers growing up amidst acres of apple orchards, but there are only a few apple trees in her garden now.

With apple trees are gradually dying, people in Kawang opted to grow vegetables. Most orchards have disappeared and concrete buildings filled the area.

Kinley said she has about 10 apple trees today and all trees stopped fruiting three years ago. “I have planted new saplings but there is no improvement in the yield.”

When the yield was good, Kinley Zam earned Nu 12,000 per apple tree. “We do not even have enough apples for self-consumption.”

The family has cultivated potatoes and chillies in areas that used to be apple orchards.

Kawang gewog was known for apple and vegetable production in Thimphu. In recent years, apple yield plummeted and people are looking for other income sources.

Tawpola, 60, has started growing walnut and hazelnut in his farm that used to be an apple orchard.

Residents said leaves of apple saplings turned yellow and died within months. “It could be because of rapid change in the climate. It has become warmer.”

According to a research published in the Bhutanese Journal of Agriculture in 2019, with rise in temperature, areas in the higher locations are expected to become suitable for crop cultivation. However, in Bhutan, even if the upper areas become suitable in terms of climate, steep topographic features present a serious challenge for crop husbandry. Climate change could lead to change in cropping systems.

Kabisa residents said apple trees flower on time, but it doesn’t bear fruits.

A resident, Yangka Dawa, said he had more than 100 apple trees in his five-acre land three years ago.  He has now cultivated asparagus and potatoes. “I used to make Nu 100,000 yearly from selling apples but the business is no longer lucrative.”

He said that the trees developed a grey patch that reappears even after pruning and management activities. The size and quality of the apples have also deteriorated.

In the future, he plans to replace the orchard with vegetables.

Villagers are switching to other crop varieties.

Pema, 68 plans to plant 30 to 40 fruit trees around his farmland. “Without paddy cultivation in the area, I have to depend on fruit trees and vegetables,” he said, adding that his livelihood was at risk due to the diminishing apple orchard.

He said that his income from the apple business had decreased due to poor fruiting.

The apple production trend according to the RNR census report 2019 is decreasing in the country. It reduced from 7,051MT in 2014 to 3,684.42MT in 2019.

A projection study reports that Thimphu, Paro, Bumthang and Chukha will lose a considerable chunk of areas suitable for apple production by 2050.

Kawang Gup, Thukten Wangchuk, said that the area is undergoing rapid socio-economic development, which forced people to lose interest in apple cultivation.

He said the quality of apples in the gewog was poor since most of the chiwogs are located away from direct sunlight. “The poor fruit quality and low income have affected apple production in the gewog.”

He said that villagers had either sold their farmlands or converted it to other forms of income sources which resulted in reduced focus on the management of apple orchards.

According to the gup, of about 800 households in the gewog, only about 40 households have apple orchards.

Gewog agriculture extension officer, Nidup Zangmo, said that although the ministry had provided training, villagers are not interested. “Apple has no economic value to people. They now focus on growing crops and vegetables with high market value within a short growing period.”

By Choki Wangmo

Edited by Tashi Dema