The livelihoods of citrus growing farmers, in parts of Zhemgang, are threatened as trunk borers cause substantial damage to their plantations.
Aum Yeshi, 49, of Limapong village in Goshing gewog was jubilant that her 100-tree mandarin orchard is finally going to bear fruit this year. She has already done the math on how much she would be earning.
She had initially planted about 120 mandarin seedlings in a meager dry land that she owns, of which, only 100 trees survived. Although she could still cultivate other crop in the patch of land, she opted for mandarin plantation instead. This is because mandarin is a source of income for the people of the community and has depended on its sale for years.
The gewog road, just adjacent to her field, gave Yeshi all the more reason to replace finger miller with mandarin plantation. With a road connection, she expected to make her mandarin business even more lucrative.
However, it has turned out to a nightmare as her citrus tree leaves started to turn yellow and fall, followed by fruit drop, and the trees slowly succumbing to the trunk borer.
Sangay’s orchard that is next to Yeshi’s orchard bears the same brunt. The disease, according to her, is slowly spreading and affecting trees in other villages too. Many citrus orchards in adjoining villages like Lamtang are reported to be affected as well.
Another citrus grower, Nima Dorji also said that his citrus trees started to turn yellow after the trees were attacked by insects which drilled holes into the trunk. “Fruits started to rot and fall from the tree strangely,” Nima said.
He also said that same diseases are rampant in many parts of lower and upper Kheng affecting many households from earning good cash income like before.
“Although, it is regretful to lose the trees, after what has been invested in its upbringing, there is nothing we can do,” said a sad Aum Yeshi. She added that all they can do is watch the trees succumb to notorious trunk borers one after another.
Goshing Gup Sangay Letho told The Bhutanese that the drying up of citrus trees started earlier this year, which he suggested is due to the change in climatic conditions, and that farmers are unable to tend the citrus tree well. He said, “During summers, insects reside in the citrus tree feeding the trunk and later destroy the whole citrus tree.”
Sangay Letho further said that each year, the farmers harvest low product as most of the citrus lose out to diseases which rot the fruits on the trees, or fall before harvest time.
However, he said that from the gewog office’s side, farmers are being provided with available pesticides and tools to avert insects feeding on the trees. “We also educate people about the importance of keeping the surrounding of the citrus trees clean.”
According to the gewog agriculture extension official, Sangay Phuntsho, the RNR has rendered all the help they could, through technical support, advice and spraying of insecticide from the day the farmers complained about the citrus disease.
He explained that the mandarin trees are affected mainly by trunk borer, shield bug and Chinese mandarin fly, making the tree branches yellow and fruits to fall early.
He added that many activities targeted towards prevention steps of such a disease were initiated. Just a few months back, farmers were trained on how to biologically tackle and contain the disease. Sealing the trunk borer hole by cotton soaked in kerosene, or covering the holes with mud and cow dung are known to kill the borer.
While for mandarin shield bug, the common recommendations are to manually catch the bug early in the morning. “The caught bugs will have to be sealed in a bottle and disposed,” said the gewog agriculture extension official. He further said that introduction of red ant towards April and June is also known to be effective.
As for the fruit dropping, he has advised farmers to collect all dropped fruits and dispose it in a pit sealed with ash.
As per statistics maintained by the Gewog Agriculture Extension, Goshing gewog produced 3, 70,596 kgs of mandarin last year. Records also show that the gewog has 47,849 mandarin trees with 30,979 of it.