As an export strategy, the Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) will start exporting citrus mandarin (orange) in the last week of November, which is later than the usual export time.

This was decided at the mandarin export coordination meeting yesterday. The strategy is to export ripe and mature oranges, which is expected to improve the market.

BEA president Dorji Tshering said that mandarin export usually started on November 15. This year, they will start from November 25.

“Exporting early means selling unripe oranges that hampered the market,” he said, adding that this time they would allow the citrus to ripe first.

The coordination meeting was organised by BEA and the department of marketing and cooperatives, agriculture ministry. Exporters met with representatives from various sectors such as agriculture, trade, customs, Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry, financial institutions, labour, and thromde from southern region discussed factors related to mandarin export.

The meeting also decided that BEA would seek government intervention to replace some of the idle export items (perishable) under the preferential trade agreement between Bhutan and Bangladesh. Should this proposal come through, other potential items that could be exported to Bangladesh would replace the export items listed under the bilateral trade agreement but remain idle.

“We will take this up with the government,” BEA president Dorji Tshering said, adding that there were some items listed under the agreement that remained inactive without any exports made.

Currently, citrus and apple are Bhutan’s major exports (perishable) to Bangladesh. Other items are ginger, cabbages and cauliflowers.

However, items such as seed potatoes, pears, quinces, and dried chillies remain idle, BEA officials said, adding that these could be negotiated and replaced with other active export items.

Decreased citrus production in the last few years has also left stakeholders worried. The meeting discussed the need for attention and intervention regarding dying orange trees in the growing regions of the country.

“It is our farmers’ source of income and at every meeting with the government, we have stressed about decreased production,” BEA president said. “There is a need to seriously look into this trend.”

The meeting highlighted the need to look into possibilities of replacing old citrus trees and plant new saplings in places where orange cultivation has ceased. It was also pointed out that seedlings and nurseries were still a problem.

Bhutan exported 4,959 metric tonnes (MT) of mandarin to Bangladesh and India in the 2015-2016 season. This is an almost seven times drop from the 2014-2015 season’s total export of about 34,569MT. In the 2016-2017 season, production increased to more than 40,000MT.

Meanwhile, an official from the agriculture ministry, Jigme Tenzin said important initiatives would be taken for citrus in the 12th Plan.

“Irrigation is one of the most important aspects since mandarin is rain-fed fruit,” he said.

New mandarin plantations would also commence in areas higher than 1,300m above sea level to decrease chances of trees catching diseases. An extra-large nursery is also being planned in the 12th Plan, Jigme Tenzin said.

He added that under the rehabilitation programme, old and sick trees would also be rejuvenated, while re-plantation after cleaning dead citrus trees would also be done. “Pest management on a larger scale and nutrient management are other programmes the ministry would conduct to revive orange growing in the country,” Jigme Tenzin said.

Discussion on middlemen in the mandarin business also came up at the meeting. It was highlighted that farmers received lower profit margin with middlemen involved.

However, exporters said functioning without middlemen was impossible, as farmers would not arrange transportation and other logistics.

BEA’s general secretary, Tshering Yeshey said that the coordination meeting with all sector heads focused on addressing problems related to mandarin export was the first.

“DAMC has been supportive,” he said. “We will conduct the meeting in Samdrupjongkhar next year.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing