Phub Dem

It has been a bad business year for the apple growers of Haa and Paro. Both production and price did not favour the farmers.

Phub Dorji and the natives of Tokha village in Naja depend solely on apples for their year’s income.

His orchard has more than 400 apple trees. Both production and profit have been on the decline over the years. The pandemic further plummeted the price of the fruit.

Earlier, Phub Dorji used to sell a box of apples for Nu 1,100, but last year, he had to sell for Nu 900.

Due to movement restrictions, he had to arrange a vehicle and driver until Rinchending check-post. “It is difficult when you have to arrange everything rather than dealing with the buyers directly.”

“Pests and diseases are now more frequent,” he said.

He used to earn Nu 500,000 in a year but last year he fetched only Nu 170,000. “This is the lowest income from the fruit so far.”

For the farmers in Tokha, apple is the only cash crop. Due to the pandemic, Phub Dorji said, many apple growers from his village sold the apples to vendors at a lower price. “A box fetches Nu 700 only.”

In the last few years, apple production has continued to plummet in Thimphu, Paro, and Haa.

Karma Dorji from Tselungkha, Haa, didn’t sell a single apple to the vendors during harvest time, as the price was lower than expected.

He said that it was better to feed them to the animals rather than selling them at Nu 10 per kilograms (kg). “They are bargaining Nu 200 for a box that weighs 20kg.”

Expecting a better price, he stored 50 boxes of apples for winter. But he has not been able sell the fruit even today.

Karma Dorji went to Thimphu earlier this week to sell 200kg apples at the Centenary Farmers’ Market. He could not. “The officials didn’t let me do so.”

He said that the imported apples were selling for Nu 300 per kg and the local ones at Nu 150.

His annual income from Apple never went below 150,000 except for this year.

Another apple grower, Pema Wangmo, was preparing to replant apple trees in her half-acre orchard yesterday. She said that production was poor and the price was considerably low. “I stored 20 boxes of apple for winter, which earned around Nu 60,000.”

Many growers are struggling with storage.

Pema Wangmo usually exports the apple to Bangladesh and earns around Nu 500,000. “In 2019, the income dropped to Nu 150,000. This year is the worst.”

She said that the apple trees were drying and there were no pesticides to address the diseases.

According to RNR census report 2019, among the fruit crops, apple, once a major fruit crop in Bhutan, now stands nowhere in the comparison to other crops like a mandarin.

In 2019, the highest number of growers was in Paro (32.24 percent), Trashiyangtse (10.55 percent), and Thimphu (10.45 percent). Paro (65.62 percent) and Thimphu (20.50 percent) account for the highest production of apples.

According to the report, the apple production trend decreased from 7,051MT in 2014 to 3,684.42MT last year.