Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Lhops, also known as Doyaps, of Namgyel-Tapa (Tapa Gaon) in Tading, Samtse, are struggling to market their farm produces like black pepper, pineapple and betel leaf.

Before the pandemic, villagers sold the small-scale harvests across the border, but today, when production increased they could not sell anything because of the Coivd-19 pandemic.

Phub Wangmo Doya harvested about 40kgs of black pepper this year. Last year, she harvested about 30kgs.

“I tried my best to sell last year but failed,” she said. “This time I sold them all to a shopkeeper in Phuentsholing.”

A kilogramme of pepper fetched her only Nu 200 this year. “I sold it at Nu 500 a kg across the border.”

Pelzang Doya, 51, has the biggest pineapple garden in Namgyel-Tapa. The fruit is ripe for harvest.

“But I don’t know where to sell,” he said, adding that he even tried in Phuentsholing but failed as he has more than two boleros of pineapples.

Lhops claimed they have about two truckloads of pineapples waiting for the market today.

Pelzang Doya said he sold a pineapple each at Nu 30 to Nu 35 before the pandemic and earned Nu 10,000 every year. All the pineapples he harvested in 2020 and 2021 rotted.

The betel leaves have also no market.

“It is a different type of leaves and mostly consumed by people in Haa and Paro,” a farmer said.

Along with better commercial value, Lhops also said that growing these agricultural cash spices and crops have a common benefit. They don’t need separate lands as black pepper and betel leaves grow as creepers amongst areca nut trees. Pineapples are grown in the space between the areca nut trees.

Meanwhile, Lhops also said the middlemen, who bought from them at lower prices, took major chunks of profits.

Villagers said they are given Nu 1 for two pieces of betel leaves while one piece fetches Nu 3 to Nu 4 in the market.

A few Lhops also have grown more than 3,000 areca nut trees in their lands in Namgyel-Tapa, but the middlemen don’t pay them as per the market rate.

Kuensel learned that middlemen pay in advance and book the trees before harvest time. This is one way to manipulate the rate.

“What to do? Sometimes, we become cash strapped, so we have to take advance,” a villager said.

The gewog agricultural extension officer of Tading, Purna Sanyasi, said lockdowns had affected the sales in the last two years.

“We are thinking of selling in Phuentsholing this year,” he said, adding that betel leaves are sold in Thimphu and Paro.

He said farmers find their own buyers.