Orchard owners worried if they would earn enough to pay off advance taken

Agriculture: In what could be a case of counting chickens before the eggs hatch, gewog officials in Nganglam are worried if they would meet even half the target of the annual performance agreement (APA) they signed in orange production.

When the gewog signed the APA with the dzongkhag, Dechenling and Chokhorling gewogs agreed to produce 600MT (metric tonnes) while Norbugang gewog, the largest orange producing gewog, signed to produce 2,200MT. But with many trees not bearing fruit this year and fruits falling off before they ripen, farmers are more worried about losing a good source of income.

Describing it as a first time incident, bewildered villagers said some orange trees have still not borne any fruit when it is already season for harvest. They said those that bore fruits are poor in quality and quantity.

With 100 or more orange trees in each orchard, orange is the main cash crop in Dechenling, Chokhorling and Norbugang gewog.

Villagers by this time would otherwise be busy transporting the oranges. Many said even the middlemen or contractors have not turned up after learning about the poor production this year.

Villager Jigme Wangchuk from Chokhorling gewog said production dropped in the past, but this was the worst year, as there are enough only for self-consumption. “It’s a sore sight to see the leaves turning yellow and falling off without bearing fruits,” he said.

Most villagers earns between Nu 50,000 to 100,000 or more annually but the villagers are now worried they might not be able to generate income this year to meet their land tax, daily needs or return the money they took from contractors as advance payment.

Usually around this time, contractors would compete among themselves reserving the orchard, said another farmer, Samten Tshewang from Dechenling gewog.

Another affected group are the students on vacation. The orange season provides plenty of temporary jobs.  The children earn Nu 10 per pon (80 pieces) for plucking, Nu 20 for packing, carrying, loading and unloading, which is enough to buy stationaries and uniform at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, villagers are attributing the change to warming temperatures and the spread of citrus greening. Gups from three gewogs share similar concerns and said if this continues, the gewog won’t be able to meet the orange production target as per the APA.

Dechenling gup Sonam Rinchen said production in two chiwogs that had greatly contributed to last year’s target had dropped heavily. “There are about 10 vehicles in the gewog that transports oranges but it has remained idle after none of the villagers had orange to sell,” he said.

Chokhorling gup Tsheltrim Dorji said if the orange production booms in one year then it drops the next year, but this time the production dropped unexpectedly even as the gewog is trying to help villagers shift to orchard farming.

Yangchen C Rinzin,  Samdrupjongkhar