Agriculture: Chukha’s two areca nut producing gewogs, Sampheling and Phuentsholing, are facing challenges in maintaining a consistent harvest. Production has been dropping drastically over the years.

Sampheling villagers attribute the drop to diseases inflicting the areca nut trees.

Rosy Rai of Gurung Dara village in Sampheling said they became aware of the diseases only after an agriculture team had come to inspect the trees last year.

“They split apart one areca nut tree and found bugs inside,” he said.

The trees have also started drying up.

“The trees are drying up at the top,” Gurung Dara Tshogpa Asman Rai said. He added that there is no clear answer why this is happening. “It must be because of the pollution,” he said.

Compared to other villages in Sampheling, Gurung Dara is considered perfect for maintaining areca nut tree plantations. Villagers say the climate is just right.

However, windstorms can occur in the area, farmers said, and have also contributed to the drop in harvests.

In the recent 11th Plan midterm review of the dzongkhag, it was pointed that the tall variety of trees, such as the areca tree, grown in Sampheling and Phuentsholing were prone to natural calamities and wild animal attacks.

Shankar Rai, a resident of Phuentsholing said the harvests could have dropped because major portions of the two gewogs fall under thromde’s boundary.

“A lot of construction activities take place,” he said. “Trees had to be cut.”

In the midterm review, the dzongkhag also used this explanation.

However, not all agree.

“Areca nut trees are still there,” an agriculture officer said. “However, areas under the thromde are not considered while preparing midterm reports.”

Only harvests from rural areas are considered for the report.

But both sides agree that the dwindling harvests is a major cause for concern.

Only 387.99 metric tonnes (MT) of a target of 5,000MT of areca nuts were harvested in the first half of the 11th Plan.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, during the review, also expressed concern. “You should once again review this matter together,” he said to the dzongkhag representatives and gups. “If people have lost interest there is nothing that can be done.”

Lyonchoen said people can opt for other opportunities over areca nut cultivation. However, if they don’t want to, the government will have to intervene and provide support.

It was also suggested that a new variety of areca nut trees, that are not as tall can be introduced.

It takes between three to four years for a tree to bear nuts.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing