Orange exporters desperate for workers 

Export expenses expected to rise and growers could fetch a poor price

Nima | Gelephu

Mandarin export season begins in a few weeks in Gelephu but the exporters are worried if there would be enough workers for packaging and loading.

The workers from Bihar, India used to pack and load the oranges during the export until last year. At least 400 workers were involved in the trade.

While it is an opportunity for locals to engage and earn from one of the biggest export activities in Gelephu, exporters say, not many are interested.

Exporter, Madan Oli said that packaging and grading is the most important task in the business.

“Packaging decides how well oranges could be sold in the export market. It would take extra hands and training for our locals to do it properly,” he said.

He added that the exporters will not have to depend on the expat workers in the future if local workers could be trained in grading and packaging this time.

“Local workers are not interested. I couldn’t get any so far. They are not so reliable and experienced too,” Madan Oli said.

The export, this time is expected to engage over 700 Bhutanese.

With the increase in transportation and labour costs, the expenditure involved in the export this year is expected to increase. This would result in farmers fetching less price for oranges this year, according to the exporters.

The exporters pocket six percent commission of the cost price a box. A six-wheeler truck carries over 300 boxes.

“Unlike in the past, no one received the advance this year. They were here before and they know the situation. They are hesitant to give advance because of the labour shortage situation that could affect the export this time,” said Madan Oli.

To reduce the risk of people getting exposed to Covid-19 infection, the export would take place from the old stockyard at Sonamgatshel.

Dzongkhag taskforce reversed its plan to open a new stockyard near the mini dry port for the orange export and decided to continue with the old stockyard.

Sarpang dzongdag, Karma Galay, said, “We realised that we are taking many people within or near the red zone. The cases reported so far were all from the MDP.”

It was also easy for them to escort the incoming trucks to the old stockyard.

Officials from the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Gelephu said that gewog and relevant stakeholders were requested to get the required labour.

There are over nine exporters in Gelephu and the yield is better this year. Farmers earned at least Nu 1,070 a box last year. Exporters sold a box at Nu 1,260 last year.

Kamal Pradhan from Gelephu said that the exporters are expecting a good season this time because of the production.

“The only bottleneck is the shortage of labour. It is very risky to bring in expat workers going by the trend in Phuentsholing,” he said.

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