This used to be the time of the year in Bhutan that put smile on the face of mandarin farmers, the time of the year when they could earn some cash to score their dreams – of sending their kids to schools and colleges, of upping their material gratification as they liked it.
Mandarin was the gold that Bhutanese farmers carried on their back or hitched them up on the back of their horses and sold them at the border towns. This once life-enriching gold, however, ain’t gold anymore.
And farmers’ incomes have shrunk. Blame it on the poor harvest, disease and drying orchards. Things are in a bad way for mandarin farmers.
Jangchu Namgyel, Khar gewog’s mangmi: “Khar used to produce so many truckloads of mandarin. Every farmer owned at least an orchard and yield was good. Naught remains today. Fruit diseases have killed everything.”
He wonders if this is on account of global warming. “But then, we have factories and mines that spew up a lot of dust and possibly toxic chemicals in the air.”
Tshering is a local seasonal mandarin businessman. He said that for the first time in more than a decade, he has had to give up the business. Harvest is dwindling and the fruit quality is low. “It is a sad thing to happen. The whole chain of income-generating activities has stopped with it,” says Tshering.
Another local mandarin businessman quit doing what he had been doing for income. Inspection of fruit quality in all the mandarin-growing villages told him the business will give him little in return. Said the distraught businessman: “The two villages of Shali and Gamung used to produce no less than 12 to 15 truckloads of mandarin every year but did not have even a truckload of mandarin this year. Entire orchards in both these villages are affected by disease.”
In Pemagatshel, mandarin trees first began dying in Denchi village and in few years ago. And the disease that was killing the trees spread to other villages. Today all the mandarin-growing villages are experiencing dwindling harvests and dying orchards.
The Dzongkhag Agriculture Office has sent samples to ascertain if the cause was citrus greening huanglongbing (HLB). But despite repeated analysis, the result has turned out not to be greening even as presence of vector and similar symptoms were detected. So, the people suspect that the cause the dust from mining.
In March 2012, a resolution was approved by the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) to cut down and burn all the trees in the affected orchards to fight the spread of the disease and to begin planting again after certain sanitation period. But the resolution did not get anything done yet.
The officiating dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tshering Dorji, said that the sector had bought power chains to cut the affected tress. “We have also planned for growing alternative fruits in these affected places, but that can only happen in phases because of lack of fund,” he said. “This issue will be again discussed in the upcoming DT to ensure something gets done. This is the only alternative.”
But the Integrated Food Processing Plant (IFPP) is planning to do exactly what it did last year with the fruit. “We hope to pulp about 20 metric tonnes of fruit this year. Actually, the lack of poor quality fruit in orchards could mean that nothing may come to us,” said the Plant Manager Dorji Tenzin.