Choki Wangmo & Phub Dem

Apple growers in the country need not worry about the nationwide lockdown hampering export of the cash crop.

The agriculture ministry has developed plans to collect and redistribute commercial crops such as apples, cardamom and mandarin if the lockdown continues. Apple harvest starts in two to three weeks from now.

Agriculture minister, Yeshey Penjor said that through government facilitation and the support of dzongkhag agriculture officers, private exporters would be mobilised at collection points to collect the produce from farmers, who can then initiate online exports. But they would need to undergo Covid-19 testing and follow the government protocols.

If that fails, the government would then buy the products, add value, and also redistribute for internal consumption along with essential items during lockdown. “The government cannot pay perfect oriented price but will ensure that farmers do not run into loss,” Lyonpo said, adding that the government should not run into loss too.

Bhutan Agro Industries Ltd. is the only local industry that buys apples from the local market for commercial purpose.

This comes as a relief to apple growing farmers who are worried even as the apple season nears. There are reportedly low yield this year in many apple-growing dzongkhags like Thimphu, Paro and Haa, but those seeing average yield are concerned where to sell their produce.

In Lango, Paro, farmer Rinzin Pem sold her first harvest, about 10 boxes of apples, to a vendor from Phuentsholing. A box costs Nu 550. She has 50 apple trees in her orchard. As per her estimation, she has around 40 boxes of apple ready for sale. She said that some of her apples started falling, as it matured.

Parops harvest apples towards mid-September and farmers are worried about the market if the lockdown extends. Some growers were hopeful that the lockdown would be lifted before harvest time, while others are planning to store it for winter.

An owner of a 17 acres apple orchard in Yusipang, Thimphu, Namgay said that the harvest season is early next month but since the yield was low, he will not export this year.

Thimphu has one of the largest apple orchards with 46,383 fruit bearing trees with 578 growers recorded last year. Maedwang gewog produced the highest numbers at 4,20,271 kilograms in 2019.  Genyen Gup Karma Gyeltshen said that there were no plans in place to export apples since people did not anticipate huge production.

President of Bhutan Exporters Association, Dorji Tshering, said that there were no plans to export apple but if the lockdown is lifted or protocols relaxed, the association would try exporting to Bangladesh through Pasakha border. Although the entire apple growing dzongkhags reported poor yield, he said those, which were harvested before the national lockdown was stored in the cold storage in Paro.

The farmers blame hailstorm in May and the early monsoon for the poor yield this year.