Agriculture: Apple prices have soared to a record high of Nu 1,000-1,200 per box this year as a result of problems being faced by apple growers in Shimla and Kashmir in India.

A box of apples weighs 20kg.

Indian dealers in Phuentsholing said apple growers in Shimla and Kashmir were not able to transport and bring their produce to the market because of political problems and road blocks. For more than 50 days, local growers have been reaping the benefits.

A dealer in Phuentsholing, Rajesh Sha associated with Karma Tenzin Exports said price and produce are better this year compared to last year.

“Bhutanese growers benefited a lot,” he said. “Exporters are also benefitting.”

As of now, Rajesh Sha and his team have been able to export about 50 truckloads of apples to different places in India after purchasing apples from growers and suppliers.

From Phuentsholing, apples are exported to West Bengal, Bihar, and Assam in India.

Falakatta, Cooch Behar, Dhupguri, Silliguri, and Guwahati are some of the nearer markets. Bangladesh is the other major market besides India.

However, apples exported to Bangladesh are directly transported from Thimphu.

Ashok Gupta, another exporter, who has been in the business for 35 years said all those who deal in apples will benefit this year. “However, the rate has fallen in the last one week,” he said, adding that Indian apples have started becoming available in the market.

However, the price is still going as high as Nu 1,000 per box for superior quality apples today. The high demand for Bhutanese apples is attributed to minimal chemical content and better taste, Ashok Gupta said.

During the same time in 2015, the price ranged between Nu 700 and Nu 900 per box of apples. The apple export season in the country starts from the mid of July and concludes during the first week of October.

But there are problems being faced by exporters. Apples brought to Phuentsholing are not segregated properly with various sizes mixed in the same boxes. Exporters said that apple growers and suppliers must improve segregation to fetch better prices.

While apples from Thimphu are considered superior in quality, even apples that are considered inferior are fetching good prices today.

Exporters are paying anywhere between Nu 300 and Nu 450 per box for inferior quality apples.

An apple farmer from Paro, Chencho Zam, 52, is going home satisfied.

“Apple prices are good right now,” she said. “But I could not sell much when the price was really great.”

Chencho Zam said that apples she brought from Paro spoiled as a result of getting stuck at road blocks caused by heavy rains in July. This time with apples from her own orchard in Paro, and some purchased from Thimphu, she is taking home about Nu 200,000 for two truckloads.

Surendar Sha of UT Enterprise, meanwhile, is worried the price could fall drastically and affect all parties involved. Indian apples have entered the market and Bangladesh has also started to divert imports.

Apple is one of the major cash earning products besides mandarin and cardamom in the country.

Last year, however, was not good for farmers. USD 1.3 million  (M) was generated with 2,896.19 metric tonnes (MT) of apples exported. This includes exports to both India and Bangladesh.

In 2014, Bhutan exported 5,385.60MT of apples worth USD 3.5 million (M) to India. About 1,387.42MT of apples worth USD 901,823 was exported to Bangladesh.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing