When Aum Om of Semtokha said that she would uproot her remaining apple and pear trees and plant pomegranates and oranges, she was not joking. A farmer turned landlord, still with some fruit trees, Aum Om was shocked to see one in three apples she picked rotting or infected from the inside. Her pears had the same problem in early summer.

She is not alone. Many relying on fruit trees for additional cash income are complaining of fruits rotting on trees or getting infected even if they appear healthy from the outside. They feel Thimphu is becoming warmer and fruits that thrived once are not suitable. Oranges and pomegranates are grown in warmer places. They are growing well in Thimphu.

There is no known research done as of now, but farmers are complaining of the changing climate and food or cash crops getting affected. In Khuruthang, guide-turned-farmer Phuntsho is shocked to see his Humpa fruits infested. Humpa is a citrus fruit and Phuntsho believes it is resistant to pests.  Not any more, he says.

From the study the forest and park services conducted, which found tree lines ascending by 221 metres in the last three decades, the farmers’ fear could be true. And it does have socioeconomic repercussions on farmers. If the treeline is moving to higher elevations and is an indicator of climate change impact, others could be impacted.

Take for instance Khasakha farmers in lower Thimphu. Apple is a good source of cash income. Claimed to be the best apples exported, many are literally feeling the heat. Some feel bad orchard management is the cause, but others who manage theirs, feel something is wrong and out of their hands.

This is where research and study should come in. With scientific study, our experts and policymakers could intervene.  There are means to adapt to climate change and its impact on crops – food and cash. We introduced cold-resistant rice varieties so that colder places like Bumthang can grow rice. We need similar interventions, supported by research to adapt to climate change impacts.

Rice self-sufficiency is on a decline and has already dropped to 25.2 percent from 40.8 percent five years ago. While there are factors like fallowing land, cheaper alternatives and unreliable irrigation systems, a drop in food production should be a huge concern.

Cash crops are not as arduous as cultivating food crops like paddy. Changes in climatic conditions can impact yield, as is evident, or wipe out crops. We have seen regions growing citrus mandarin devoid of the source of cash. A study on the impact of climate change on crops is what is needed.

We have the expertise and we have the reasons to conduct research. After all, what is the use of training or skilling people and not doing anything? If there is an impact on crops from warming temperatures or changes in precipitation, it will have huge socio-economic repercussions.