Choki Wangmo

Given Bhutan’s location in the Himalayas with rich natural resources and adjustability for climate change resilience  in different elevations, the country’s  horticultural production could be doubled.

However, according to chief horticulture advisor with Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) Integrated Horticulture Promotion Project (IHPP), Sayuri Teramoto (PhD), this needs a paradigm shift in the current horticulture practices.

Nursery management, photosynthesis-based resource management like spacing, branch and fruit controls, and soil fertility management have to improve, she said.

The lack of aforementioned practices in Bhutanese horticulture, she said, could be the reason for poor horticultural production. “Branch and fruit controls are important features of management. It is crucial for economically important fruits. Bhutanese farmers don’t practice such management methods.”

“Farmers have plenty of space to improve basic management in their fields. Instead of counting the numbers of fruit trees planted, it is necessary to take care of the existing ones through good management,” she said. A fruit tree takes seven years to mature, which until that time, requires constant management and care, which Bhutanese farmers ignore, the expert said.

In recent years, mandarin and apple growers in the country reported poor fruiting and increased incidence of pests and diseases.

She also said that organic agriculture doesn’t mean not using synthetic fertilisers in the field. Without fertilisers, fruits, crops, and vegetables are naturally grown and not organic as is generally believed in the country. “To increase production, organic inputs like compost and high protein organic fertilisers are important instead of extracting forest surface soil which takes years to form.”

As part of the five-year (2016-2021) IHP Project  project,  between JICA and the government trained 502 farmers, 213 extension officers, and 23 counterpart researchers in the central and western Bhutan in horticulture.

 By 2023, the government plans to increase fruit production by 120 percent. However,  Sayuri Teramoto said that the government lacked methodologies and the analysis of the situation.

IHPP survey revealed that Bhutanese have limited knowledge-sharing opportunities, lack of essential management for crop production, and difficulties learning new techniques.

For better horticultural production at the commercial scale, the survey findings recommended village or community-based group production and collaborative work on nursery, harvest, marketing, transportation, sales, and input procurement. This, Sayuri Teramoto said, could address the market challenge—surplus during the production season and shortage during lean season—with opportunities for export.

Last year, the consumer prices increased by 7.56 percent in July compared to the same month in 2019 as food prices increased by 14.91 percent, according to the National Statistics Bureau’s report.

The main contributors to the increase were increased import of vegetables by 20.86 percent and fruits by 16.68 percent, among others.