Lhakpa Quendren

Sarpang—While Sarpang has seen a surge in areca nut growers in recent years, farmers face challenges exporting their produce every season due to the absence of a trade route at the Gelephu border gate.

Currently, areca nut exports are only permitted via the Phuentsholing (Jaigaon) and Samtse (Chamurchi) border gates.

The data shows that 6,758 metric tonnes of areca nuts, valued at Nu 351 million, are exported through the Gelephu border gate annually.

However, this trade is not without challenges.

Bhutanese exporters have to pay about Nu 7,000 to Nu 10,000 in taxes per truckload to the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) at the border.

Given the challenges farmers face, the recent Sarpang Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) suggested the opening of a reliable trade route for areca nut exports through the Gelephu border gate.

Senggey Gup Jigme raised concerns regarding the imposition of the ‘gunda tax’ on exports and the low prices of areca nuts. “If such issues continue, farmers will be forever bogged down. It will impede economic progress and income generation for farmers.”

Without addressing the issues faced by areca nut growers, achieving the dzongkhag’s per capita income target of Nu 400,000 by 2029 would be difficult, he said.

Farmers prefer planting areca nut trees. Ten out of 12 gewogs in Sarpang grow areca nuts as their main source of income.

Sarpang is one of the six southern dzongkhags growing areca nuts as a cash crop.

Chhuzagang Gewog alone produced about 4,500 metric tonnes of areca nuts in 2023.

Chhuzagang Gup Karma Tshering said that areca nuts was the main source of their income, but farmers were not fetching good prices due to several issues. “For us, other forms of agricultural farming are neither reliable nor sustainable.”

The official from the Department’s Regional Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives (RAMCO) in Gelephu said that the agriculture and livestock ministry plans to include areca nuts in the Bhutan-India trade agreement to address this longstanding issue.

The issues with areca nut exports emerged in 2021 after the Indian government digitalised the business system and prohibited the export of areca nuts from Bhutan to India.

However, there is a yearly quota permitting the export of 17 metric tonnes if the price exceeds Nu 321 per kilogram.

Sarpang Dzongda Lobzang Dorji informed that the dzongkhag administration has submitted the matter to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Employment.

He added that the government is in discussions to open several trade routes across the borders for other products as well.

“While the export is facilitated through the close relationship between the two nations, farmers still face some issues,” he said. “If areca nut exports are permitted through the Gelephu border gate, many issues are expected to be resolved. It will also benefit other areca nut-related products.”