Nima & Chimi Dema
The orange export season is here but the largest export point in the country, Gelephu, is yet to ready the stockyard this year.
Exporters are preparing depots and temporary hostels to house over 300 workers who would grade and pack the fruit.
Eight depots are being planned at the export yard. However, exporters are struggling to get workers.
Sangay, an exporter, said it would take time for the Bhutanese labours to get used to packing and grading.
“This could open an opportunity for the locals but then export season might end by the time our workers gain the required expertise,” he said.
Sangay needs more than 100 workers. He tried to bring 25 local workers with some experience from Samtse hasn’t been able to get movement permit.
Workers from low-risk areas, he said, were hesitant to work in Gelephu.
The cost of export has almost doubled this year. Exporters had to lease private land to set up the required structure, bear extra labour charges, and hire Indian drivers.
This is expected to affect the price of oranges in the source.
“Everyone involved in the trade, exporter, supplier, and growers will face the impact,” said Sangay.
Each exporter invested over Nu 150,000 to build a depot at the stockyard. Indian workers did it at much lower cost in the past.
Earlier, Bhutanese could directly drive till the India-Bangladesh border. But, this year Indian drives would be hired to drive Bhutanese trucks, making the trade more risky.
“We are not sure how we would solve vehicle breakdown problems this year. Goods worth Nu 600,000 would be lost in the case of an accident,” said another exporter, Nirmal.
The exporters could not get the letter of credit, an important document needed to start the trade from Bangladeshi importers.
The officials from the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority would be regulating the quality of oranges in place of the importers from Bangladesh.
However, exporters said that it would be difficult to fetch expected rates in the export market without importers from Bangladesh inspecting the products.
“It’s a perishable good and it’s in their hand to say the whole oranges were damaged on the way,” said Sangay. “If the government is facilitating to bring them here it should be done before getting late.”
General Secretary of Bhutan Export Association (BEA), Tshering Yeshi, said that the association was negotiating the rate currently with the importers from Bangladesh.
“The price may not go below the last year’s rate,” he said.
BEA in consultation with Bhutanese Embassy in Dhaka and DAMC is facilitating to bring in importers from Bangladesh for the usual inspection works. They are expected to be here by December 20.
“They are a bit skeptical how the quality would be maintained. New hands do the packing and grading this time. They will assist and guide Bhutanese labours so that the quality is not compromised,” said Tshering Yeshi.
Sources said that the certification and quality assurance regulations by BAFRA were not recognised abroad.
Bhutan exported more than 10,600 metric tonnes of orange to Bangladesh last year. For the past five years, Gelephu exported the highest amount of oranges in country.
Farmers wait for buyers in Tsirang
In Gosarling, Tsirang orchards are teeming with healthy fruit. By this time usually all the fruits would have been harvested and sold.
In Dzomlingzor, Arun Bahadhur has more than 300 fruiting trees in his orchard.
“But I’m worried as fruits are dropping and no contractor has come looking for orange this time,” Arun Bahadhur said.
Likewise, Dhan Man Pradhan is expecting to harvest four truckloads of orange from his orchard. “If contractors don’t come, we might have to take it for an auction in Gelephu,” he said.
A Damphu-based exporter, Dina Nath Adhikari, is preparing said that he had given Nu 6 million advance payment to farmers in Changchey, Tsirangtoe and Nezergang and suppliers from Dagana.
He said that a stockyard would be constructed in Gosarling soon where grading and packaging would be done. “Packaging is expected to begin from December 4.”