Export: The poorest mandarin yield in years has forced orange exporters to close shop early this season.

Exporters in Phuentsholing sent their last consignment to Bangladesh on January 28. Other exporters in neighbouring districts are expected to send their final consignments this week.

The orange export usually starts from November 15 and lasts till February 15.

Unlike last year, orange depots remained mostly empty this season. Nganglam, which used to see more than half a dozen depots does not have any this season.

“Some of the trucks didn’t even have full load because of reduced supply,” an official from agriculture marketing and cooperatives department said.

The Setikharay embankment at this time of the year is usually gleaming gold with mandarin but its all dry and dusty this year. Of the seven depots, only one has remains open.

Manager of Pradhan Exporters, Sajahan, said so far they have been able to export only 65 truckloads of mandarin. Last year at this time they exported at least 150 truckloads of mandarin orange.

“Not only has the production decreased but the size too is small this year,” he said.

In Samdrupjongkhar the situation is not different. Exporters said it took almost three days for them to fill a truck. Last year they sent almost 170 trucks a day; 300 boxes of oranges fill a truck.

One of the exporters, Langa Dorji, said he managed to send only about nine trucks of oranges since he started exporting from December 10.

“If this continues, we might have to close the depot after about a week. I’ve already paid Nu 8.7 million advance to the orchard owners. I haven’t even recovered Nu 300,000 as of now,” Langa Dorji said.

Truck drivers from Samdrupjongkhar said at least 7,000 truckloads were transported by this time last year, while only about 500 trucks have supplied oranges at the Burimari, the border town of Bangladesh this year. Today less than 20 trucks are there.

The widespread presence of diseases such as citrus greening and weeds compounded by poor management have led to the slump in yield this year, agriculture officials earlier said.

Political unrest in Bangladesh last year created poor market that also pushed transportation costs more than threefold. Despite that, prices for the produce ranged between USD 10 to USD 13 a box weighing 25kg and 27kg, depending on size and weight.

The exporters said that with the orange production declining in India, the demand for Bhutanese orange in Bangladesh has shot up propelling the price to USD 20 for big oranges and USD 17 for small oranges.

But with less production in Bhutan, they are unable to meet the demand even when the oranges are coming from six eastern dzongkhags.

Bhutanese exporters earned USD 10.42 million from export to Bangladesh in 2014, the highest earnings in about 14 years.

Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) figures show that Bhutan produced about 26,728.10 metric tonnes of mandarin last year, which is more than double what was produced in 2013.  This does not include export to India.

Exporters in 2013 had made about USD 5.6 million from oranges.

Tshering Palden 

Additional reporting by Yangchen C Rinzin and Nirmala Pokhrel