… The fruits on the affected trees are smaller, of poor quality, and drop prematurely

Neten Dorji | Nganglam

The citrus greening menace is affecting the mandarin orchards of Norbugang in Nganglam, Pemagatshel.

Orange grower Sonam Phuntsho of Norbugang in Nganglam, Pemagatshel is deeply distressed because his income from mandarin orchards has significantly dropped because of the disease.

The 52-year-old man practises conventional farming and owns 1,300 orange trees. A decade ago, Sonam Phuntsho used to earn up to Nu 1.5 million annually selling the oranges from his orchard.  But after 2015, production began to drop drastically. This year, he earned only Nu 400,000.

“As the trees in my orchard started dying one after another, our annual income dropped significantly,” said Sonam Phuntsho.

Like Sonam Phuntsho, farmers in Norbugang are not confident of a decent income from the sale of oranges, one of their key sources of income.

Farmers say the declining orange crop yield has been palpable even before 2015. Four villages in Norbugang in Nganglam have been considered orange pocket areas, according to the villagers. These areas are currently facing problems and trees are seen gradually dying.

In Nyingshingborang of Norbugang, orange grower Tashi Namgayel is disappointed. His annual earnings have declined to Nu 200,000 from Nu 700,000. His crop is suffering from a disease which makes fruits fall before they get ripened.

“Orange farming was a major income source for the farmers. Farmers here build new houses and send their children to schools from the earnings of oranges,” said Tashi Namgyel. “I used to earn as much as Nu 700,000 a year selling oranges.”

He said they did not have any problems of such magnitude 15 years ago.

“I tried many ways to control the pests, but they did not work,” said the 64-year-old. “It has been many years since most families depend on growing oranges. But with the harvest becoming smaller every year, it is becoming difficult to make income from other work.”

Khandu, from Norbugang village, planted 800 orange trees on five acres but most of his trees do not bear fruit now.

“The trees that gave us abundant fruits in previous years did not bear fruit this year,” he said. “The leaves and fruits turn yellow and start falling from the trees.”

He said that the citrus greening disease is spreading in the gewog and climate change led to a drop in production in the locality.

“After applying the required amount of fertiliser, and management of the trees as advised by experts, some of the trees started giving fruits again,” he said. “Most farmers have shifted to livestock and other agricultural work now.”

Farmers said that everyone has started growing cardamom, ginger and vegetables on a commercial scale after orange production collapsed. “We cannot rely only on oranges because the production decreases year after year,” said an elderly villager from Gashari.

Norbugang gewog agriculture extension officer, Karma said that poor maintenance of orchards and citrus greening is the main cause of orange trees in the gewog falling every year.

“Lack of water and nutrients have affected the orange plants in the gewog and has led to falling production,” said Karma. “The farmers have not maintained their orchards properly.”

He said, in collaboration with the agriculture research development centre (ARDC) in Wengkhar in  Mongar and Bajo in Wangdue, they have started programmes to improve and promote orange production.

“Farmers have been trained on management of orchards and most of them are implementing the techniques,” said Karma.