Nima | Gelephu

With the export of mandarins from Gelephu expected to end in the next five days, farmers in Drujeygang, Dagana, are rushing to harvest their main source of income.

Some farmers in Dagana are planning to explore markets in the country, as the transport of the produce to Gelephu is becoming difficult with sporadic reports of community cases and lockdown restrictions.

Farmers from Zhemgang have requested that officials monitoring the export in Gelephu keep a few depots open for a little while longer.

Farmers from Dagana, Tsirang, Zhemgang, and Sarpang depend on the export from Gelephu to sell oranges, and eight exporters are involved in the trade this year.

While four exporters have closed their depots, the other four are continuing the export-related work in containment.

A farmer from Drujeygang, Dagana, Sherab Dorji, said that it would be difficult to find a market for the produce in the country if the export is closed early.

“Most farmers could only sell 70 percent of the total production. A few of them could only sell 50 percent. We get to harvest only once a year. We are trying but the weather wasn’t favourable this time,” he said.

He added that the farmers and suppliers would suffer more losses if the export closes early. “Supplying oranges to depots in Gelephu was disturbed after Dagana and Tsirang went into lockdown recently.”

Sherab Dorji said he lost almost Nu 200,000 worth of oranges during the lockdown. “Vehicles were stopped along the way and we couldn’t press the government as we are all in a difficult situation. I waited for almost 10 days.”

It was learnt that increasing community outbreaks and lockdown restrictions in the major mandarin producing dzongkhags in the past three weeks led to tonnes of mandarins rotting on the way to depots in Gelephu.

Vehicles ferrying the produce were stranded on the way and some could not transport mandarins immediately after the harvest.

Farmers said mandarins were damaged while trying to seek approval from the respective dzongkhag task force.

Sangay Rinchen from Dagana said extending the export period would help farmers sell their produce. “The export continued until the end of February last year. We were told that the depots were closed early this year because of the disease outbreaks.”

He said that he lost over 1,000 metric tonnes of mandarins during the recent lockdown restrictions in Dagana and Tsirang.

However, exporters who depend on farmers from Sarpang for oranges have completed their export this season. The production has dropped in Sarpang.

Officials from the Bhutan Export Association (BEA) in Gelephu said most farmers have harvested almost all of their oranges by now and the remaining oranges could be exported through one or two depots.

The export lasted until the end of February last year.

BEA programme officer Guru Wangchuk said the export would last for another five days. “There will be at least one depot open until the supply of oranges from neighbouring dzongkhags stop. There might be pending supplies because of lockdown, but most of them have completed the harvest.”

He said that about 30 vehicles were stranded for days during the recent lockdown in Tsirang and Dagana. “The vehicle movements were facilitated with support from the respective dzongkhag Covid-19 task forces.”

He also said there was not much damage to products, as they could export on time. “Different dzongkhags had different procedures to contain the outbreak in times of lockdown.”

There were 300 workers involved in the export. Only one tested positive, since the depots have functioned in containment mode from December to date. None of the close contacts were exposed to the virus.

Meanwhile, Gelephu exported 438 trucks of mandarins worth USD 2 million in the past two months. The export from Gelephu started in December.