Yangyel Lhaden

Some 40 individuals from Jabana, a village in Paro, are here in Tsirang doing orange export business. Three businessmen from Paro spearheaded this initiative three years ago.

During the winter months between December and February, the community relocates to Tsirang, converting it into their temporary residence to engage in the export business.

Living in makeshift shelters at the orange depot, their routine involves unloading, segregating oranges into A and B grades, and managing rejected lots. The packed oranges are then loaded onto trucks for export to Bangladesh.

Tsheten Wangchuk, a supervisor at the depot, said that the founders initiated the business with a community-centric approach. The generated income circulates back into the community, and locals acquire valuable skills for the orange export trade. Additionally, it “provides employment opportunities during the colder months when work is scarce in the village.”

Nineteen-year-old Nidup Tshering, also known as Max, sees a future in the orange export business. Grateful for the skills acquired and the income earned, he envisions establishing his own venture. “The financial returns not only support his family but also offer personal freedom in purchasing what I want.”

The earnings are structured, with the unloading and loading team receiving Nu 35 per box, while the packing group earns Nu 25 per box. Surprisingly, even a 71-year-old individual contributes to the workforce, who last year made Nu 36,000.

“The weather is nice here, and I can make some money to take home. I am the sole breadwinner in the family,” said the man.

Tshering Dorji, another supervisor, highlighted the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting the realisation of the country’s reliance on foreign workers. “This shift has enabled Bhutanese individuals to learn various facets of the orange export business, moving beyond mere packing.”

However, challenges persist. The purchase price of grade A orange stands at Nu 1,100 and grade B at Nu 900, leading to discontent among some farmers. Furthermore, logistical constraints limit the export to one truckload every two days.

The timing of the export, starting in December, is strategically aligned with the ripening cycles of orange at different altitudes.

“There are two types of oranges: one that grows in lower altitudes ripens around this time and one at higher altitudes which ripens in February,” said Tsheten Wangchuk, and emphasised the importance of preventing spoilage for lower-altitude oranges by not waiting for better prices. “If farmers wait longer for their low-altitude orange to fetch a better price, they will go bad.”

Last year’s success witnessed 73 trips of oranges exported to Bangladesh, and this year, the momentum continues with 13 trips already recorded.

The venture not only sustains local livelihoods but also marks a shift towards self-sufficiency and skill development in the face of external challenges.