Dechen Dolkar

Apple orchards in Haa are dwindling, with apple growers reporting a significant decline in their apple trees and yield over the past few years.

The symptoms of deterioration of apple tress surfaced first in 2019 when twig dieback became noticeable, which affected entire branches and killed the trees within a span of two years.

According to data from the National Statistics Bureau (NSB), Haa produced approximately 420 metric tonnes of apples in 2016. However, by 2022, apple production plummeted to just around 76 metric tonnes.

With apple trees succumbing to this distressing decline, local farmers have resorted to felling trees in their orchards.

Kezang Dawa, a 57-year-old apple grower from Katsho Gewog, recounted how his apple trees aged 22 years and numbering more than 100, fell victim to pests a few years ago. In the wake of the pest infestation, his apple trees gradually withered, compelling him to remove all of them.

When the pests affect apple trees, they wither completely within two years, resulting in a decrease in both fruit quantity and size.

To combat diseases, orchard owners applied fungicidal sprays, but their efforts have yielded limited success.

Kezang Dawa used to earn a substantial income of Nu 70,000 annually from his apple orchard until 2019. However, in recent years, a lack of buyers has forced apple growers to send their produce to Bhutan Agro Industries Limited for juice-processing.

“Now I have resorted to growing fodders for my cattle,” Kezang Dawa said.

Similarly, Kinzang Choden, 52, from Eusu Gewog,said that she stopped taking care of her orchard after the trees started dying from 2020.

She has 200 apple trees and they are all more than 25 years old. Having cut down all her apple tress, Kinzang Choden has now focused on growing walnuts.

The agriculture officials of Haa said that pesticide did not help kill the disease.

The National Plant Protection Centre (NPPC) and National Centre for Organic Agriculture conducted a research about the issue in 2021.

 Possible causes

According to the report, apple trees are woody hosts, and woody hosts are notoriously tricky to diagnose, particularly if virus affects them. Some viruses show characteristic symptoms, some are limited to a certain part of the plant’s vascular system, and some may be asymptomatic.

The causes of the death of trees, so, remain unknown.

The physical observations suggest the problems could be due to diseases such as fire blight disease, bacterial diseases, powdery mildew, phytophthora infections, or virus.

Both soil and leaf samples collected were taken to NPPC to investigate.  Soil nutrient analysis was done at NSSC.


The report states that apples from Haa are more suited to local markets.  It further states that alternative fruit crops such as walnuts, strawberries and pears could be taken up to replace apples gradually.