Orange trees climb higher in Bhutan with climate change

For around last three decades, cash crops such as orange has provided farmers with a livelihood. Orange is considered one of the main cash crops other than cardamom. Until a few years ago Dagana and Tsirang exported an average of 24,000 metric tonnes of mandarins a year.

In recent years, the farmers in Dagana noticed the shift in growth of the oranges from lower to higher altitude regions.

However, it is assumed that the cause is mainly due to climate change. “Since the upper altitude regions are bearing more oranges than lower altitude regions, we believe it’s the global warming effect. This is because a decade ago it was only in lower altitude regions that the oranges were grown”

A farmer from Goshi Gewog, Purna Gurung, 54, said the size and growth quantity of oranges in lower elevation has reduced while the upper elevation areas has started bearing bigger oranges along with increased production. “It’s disheartening in one way because orange is a main cash crop, on the other hand it is good to know that farmers in upper region are now getting an opportunity to grow it.”

Karna Gewog Gup Lhawang Dorji recalls how the oranges used to be exported in trucks a decades ago. “The oranges are usually loaded in trucks to export, gradually the medium of supply changed from truck to DCM and from DCM to Bolero” he said. He said that in recent years it’s a struggle to even fill-up Boleros to export oranges.

Passang Tshering, District Agriculture Officer of Dagana, said, “The suitable altitude for the growth of orange is actually 1,100 meters above the sea level, but the growth pattern has shifted to 1,200 meters above the sea level in recent years,” he added

Other factors he said is the erratic rainfall pattern which can also hamper the growth of fruits and vegetation due to poor retention of moisture by the soil. “Earlier, the rainfall was timely, so people did not need to water the plants.”

He, however, said that the farmers are now aware of the causes and are encouraged to try plantation of new fruits such as Mango and other fruits which suits the present climatic conditions. “As a response to low orange production, we have asked the farmers to diversify their products promoting other sub-tropical fruits,” said Passang.

“Other crops such as Mangoes, kiwi, avocados and cardamom, studying the variation in climate and altitude can serve as an alternates,” he added.

As a measure to curb the further decline of oranges the Nation Citrus Program (NCP) under agriculture ministry made guidelines on how to revive the growth of orange. The NCP Coordinator, Jigme Tenzin said the mandarin production has drastically declined over the years.

Apart from Dagana, he said the other regions like Tsirang, Sarpang, Samtse, Samdrup Jongkhar, Zhemgang and Pemagatshel districts are faced with similar problems.

Some other reasons for the poor production he said can be due to poor management. “Our farmers still practice the traditional way which is why orange are declining” he said. He pointed out that the other reason can also be due to ageing of plants whereby the productive phase of the plant get’s exhausted. In such cases, he said replantation can strengthen the scope of reviving the growth.

He said the improvement in irrigation channels will aid growth by retaining the required moisture for the soil. He said the other solution such as rejuvenation and canopy management of the plant can also help recover the growth of oranges.

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