Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

After being stranded for two nights at Sunkosh and three nights at the Darachhu checkpost in Tsirang, Ngawang Loday from Drujeygang in Dagana was finally allowed to transport his mandarins to Gelephu on January 30.

The mandarin supplier was not alone. There were about 20 truckers stranded at Darachhu, who were transporting mandarins from Tsirang and Dagana to Gelephu. Darachhu is 75 kilometres away from Gelephu towards Tsirang.

As the number of positive cases soared in Sarpang, and Tsirang dzongkhag reported the first positive case on January 26, the drivers said that they were not allowed to either return or proceed on the journey.

Ngawang Loday said that without food, the journey was tiresome and challenging. After unloading the mandarins at Gelephu depot and returning on the same day on January 30, he planned to return to his village but was sent back from Sunkosh checkpoint to Tsirang for antigen testing.

Lhendup Tshering, a mandarin supplier who was stranded at Darachhu for two nights, said that although the relevant authorities were called for help, there was no result, and they reasoned that the positive cases were increasing in both the dzongkhags and it was risky.

As they arranged food from the owner of the only restaurant in Darachhu,  which was currently closed, their mandarins rotted in the vehicles.

Lhendup Tshering lost 10 boxes of his mandarins. He was transporting 40 boxes in his pickup truck. Larger vehicles such as trucks and DCMs with more cargo, he said, might have incurred more losses.

Ngawang Loday said that there was a loss of Nu 40,000 post-harvest. He had to dump 20 boxes of his mandarins. His friend lost 40 percent of the produce in his DCM truck.

“Authorities said there were issues at the depot due to the rising cases but no help came until we requested help from authorities in the capital,” he said.

His friends’ six loaded pickup trucks were not given travel permits, he said.

Jamtsho from Drujeygang said that he lost 16 boxes of his mandarins while being stranded on the way. He has more loads waiting back home to be transported, but with lockdowns and long procedures, he is not hopeful.

A mandarin farmer from Drujeygang, Sangay Choden, could transport her four truckloads of mandarins on January 30. “I don’t know by how much, but I ran into losses.”

With a 72-hour partial lockdown imposed since January 29 in the town after a positive case was reported from a facility quarantine, mandarin farmers are left hapless while their produce rots in the orchards.

“Due to lockdown, we are not allowed to harvest,” she said.

Lhendup Tshering said that if farmers were allowed to harvest the produce and were provided escort services for transportation, the losses wouldn’t be huge. Mandarin exporters said that if not for such challenges caused by the pandemic, the price of mandarins was comparatively higher this year.

Farmers said that it takes more than a week to harvest fruit and load a DCM. This time after being stranded, mandarin could not be exported even after 15 days, causing major post-harvest losses.

Tsirang police superintendent (SP) Gyem Tshering said that the dzongkhag facilitated the movement of stranded vehicles upon approval from Sarpang dzongkhag.

On January 29, the National Covid-19 Taskforce announced that the drivers transporting goods are required to have an RT-PCR test which will be valid for a week. “The drivers ferrying goods should ensure that they complete their transportation within the validity of the RT-PCR test certificate before undergoing the next RT-PCR test under the enhanced surveillance strategy.”