Export: Sarpang may be the highest areca nut producing dzongkhag but poor market has left farmers without much option than selling them all to Indian contractors.

Nuts are marketed back to Bhutan in different forms such as doma, supari (sweetened beetle nut) and paan masala, among others.

Farmers said they tried selling the nuts directly to local shopkeepers but they were so used to buying from Indian sellers that they would not have it. So, unable to sell the nuts, farmers hire their orchards to Indians.

Former gup LB Ghalley has over 250 areca nut palms in Dekiling which gives him about 60kg nuts every year. Last year, he sold the nuts to a buyer in Dadgiri, Assam at Nu 2,000 per sack.

“We harvest the nuts, pack them and take them to Gelephu for Indian buyers,” said LB Ghalley. “It is difficult to find buyers within Bhutan.”

It is interesting to note that despite owning more than 200 areca nut palms LB Ghalley has to buy doma from third person.

Last year, LB Ghalley’s neighbours took 10 sacks of nuts to Thimphu and Paro. However, they could not sell the nuts and returned home with two sacks entire.

LB Ghalley has hired three orchards. He intends to sell the nuts to buyers from across the border.

This year was not a good year for areca nut growers. Price fell sharply. From Nu 2,000 a sack last year it came down to Nu 1,400 for a sack.

Dasarath from Chuzargang said he has about 150 areca palms. He has been hiring out his orchard at Nu 50,000. This year, however, he could not do so because of bad price. Gombu Dorji, an Indian contractor who was born and brought up in Bhutan, hires most of the orchards from Chuzargang.

Gombu Dorji said the price of areca nut has fallen this year because demand for products such as varieties of supari, paan masala and gudka has fallen in India. This happened because of rise in tax for gudka sometime in January last year, he added.

Areca nuts from Bhutan are transported to Bjini camp in Assam. After chopping them into pieces they are then sent to factories in New Delhi. However, some of it comes back to Bhutan as unpeeled doma.

“What we take from Bhutan, after modifying it is marketed back to Bhutan,” he said adding that the final product is marketed within India and exported to Bangladesh as well.

According to Bhutan RNR Statistics, 2015, Sarpang produced 3,513 metric tonnes of areca nuts in 2012, which fell to 2,506 metric tonnes in 2013.  Samtse produced 2,857 metric tonnes in 2012 and 2,180 metric tonnes in 2013.

Nirmala Pokhrel