Nima | Gelephu

Despite being the largest areca nut (doma) producer in the country, farmers and vendors in Sarpang lose more than 40 percent of their return to vendors from Dathgari, India.

The farmers cannot reach buyers in Assam directly and have to sell the nuts to vendors in Dathgari.

Doma-growers expect the situation to change soon.  A farmers’ group, Tashi Phendey Detshen in Chuzergang, is setting up a doma processing unit that would absorb almost all areca nut produced in Sarpang.

The chairperson of the group, Pema Tshechu, said that they were paid only Nu 3,000 per quintal while using vendors or sellers from Dathgari to export areca nut. “We’re trying to reduce the export while also substituting imported doma products that are expensive,” he said.

Pema Tshechu said, “When we exported the produce directly to a factory in Assam, we were paid Nu 5,000 and sometimes even Nu 6,800 per bag.”

He added that middlemen pocketed a big share of the farmers’ profit. “Farmers have to bear a huge loss.”

The group will now buy areca nut produced in Sarpang and produce doma products. “The current business practice isn’t benefitting the farmers,” he said.

The dzongkhag administration has helped the farmers procure the machinery and to set up the unit that is expected to employ 15 youth.    The set-up is temporarily located near Norbuling central school at Sansari town.  Their application to lease a five-acre state land nearby was rejected last year.

“All we earned after selling muza, over Nu 370,000 in 2018 and 2019, went in vain. The dzongkhag officials told us to clear the barren land and to start developing the site for the unit but we were stopped later,” said Pema Tshechu.

He added that it would be difficult for them to properly set up the unit at the current location. “Not having a reliable location to set up the unit is hampering the works to ready it,” said the chairperson.

The group would be producing muza and supari (dried sweetened doma) products.  The unit is also expected to take in over a tonne of cardamom every month.

Membership fees and separate collections were made to meet the emergency expenses for the construction and other related development works for the unit, according to the members.

Sarpang produced over 4,800 metric tonnes (MT) of areca nut in 2018-19 and more than 4,100MT last season.  Farmers earned at least Nu 40,000 and more than Nu 700,000 selling areca nut in a year.

Officials from the dzongkhag administration said that the group was currently allotted a place at Sansari town while awaiting approval for the permanent location. 

A temporary location was given to the group as the expenditure for the machine was made starting last year and the group is expected to operate the unit from the current location in one week’s time, according to the official. 

Phurpa, who exports areca nut from Chuzergang, said the farmers prefer to sell doma before being fully ripened, fearing damage from windstorms and heavy rainfall. 

Domas are exported for supari product and the group only produces muza that needs ripened doma. It’s a small unit and only about ten trucks could be taken in,” he said. 

However, exporting doma has become expensive, having to pay high wages at the dry port for transhipment. “We have to pay Nu 30 per bag at the dry port. Considering all the expenses, we get a profit of Nu 30 or 40 per bag while exporting,” said Phurpa. 

He added that the doma rate was good this time but the labour charge was high too, and so makes no difference to farmers and vendors. 

A quintal of areca nut is sold at Nu 4500 and 4600.  But, the rate is expected to fall in the upcoming days because of the assembly election in Assam.