Until 2015, Phurba Motkan in Tashiding, Dagana used to earn at least Nu 50,000 from his citrus orchard.
Since then he has been struggling to earn cash income to feed his family and educate his children. After his citrus trees were felled in 2015, he opened small shops in three different locations to earn cash income. “Three because income from one is barely enough to buy ration”, Phurba said.
When the dzongkhag agriculture sector began felling citrus trees, farmers were assured that new improved seedlings would be provided, which farmers like Phurba are yet to receive. Instead he received about 20 avocado saplings and his orchard remains barren.
“Orange farming assured income annually but other fruits can not be reliable,” he said. “While I wait for avocado to start fruiting, I need money.”
In Tashiding alone that year, over 10,000 citrus trees including seedlings were felled. According to dzongkhag agriculture officials, the disease called ‘citrus greening’ affected these trees. Last year another 10,000 trees were felled in other five gewogs of Dorona, Tshangkha, Goshi, Tseda-gang and Karmaling.
The dzongkhag agriculture sector has so far been able to replace only 15-20 percent of what was felled. Affected farmers were given avocado, mango, and litchi trees along with cardamom seedlings.
Dzongkhag agriculture officer Passang Tshering said citrus tree felling is still ongoing. It is an incomplete project that aimed towards completely getting rid of the disease from the dzongkhag. “Few farmers were reluctant to cut down trees,” he said.
All citrus trees with greening symptoms were removed with the condition that healthy seedlings will be provided. The healthy seeding was to be supplied by the National Seed Centre. Expecting the seed center to supply replacement seedling, the agriculture sector went on felling the affected trees, he said.
“By the second year, the seed center could not keep up with the demand for healthy seedlings,” he said adding that there were also issues of farmers receiving low quality seedlings. “We could not meet the target and could not make 100 percent seedling replacement.”
To compensate for the shortage of citrus seedlings and following interest from the farmers, the sector supplied seedlings of other food crops such as avocado, mango, banana, litchi and pomegranate.
Another farmer Rajman Blon also lost about 128 trees during the tree-felling programme. He has planted cardamom, avocado and mango, instead of waiting for the healthy citrus seedlings.
He said tree felling was a good initiative by the dzongkhag since the disease was killing the oranges “I enjoyed bountiful orange harvest for few years before my orchard began drying up,” he said.
In 2016, Dagana produced 6,000MT of oranges.
The dzongkhag agriculture office is also exploring other possible areas to let farmers generate cash income. Two agriculture and horticulture programmes by World Bank and JICA are in the pipeline, which is expected to boost income generation for farmers in Dagana.
Currently Dagana farmers are going through a transition in cash crop farming from citrus to cardamom and other fruits. However, in the long run, agriculture officials said there is no other fruit that is of greater potential than citrus, given the climatic condition.
“We’ve to continue citrus farming but need to educate people on improved management practices,” Passang Tshering said. He added that if the improved orchard management practices are not implemented, the healthy seedlings would also be affected.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang