And the reasons are apparent in the fact that most of their citrus trees around this time are drying-up and dying. Farmers called it a strange disease when it showed first and the strange disease permeated annually and without a miss, at the same exact point in time every year.
The most visible part of the affected communities is in lower and upper Kheng in Zhemgang where livelihoods depend on the sale of Mandarin fruits.
For a long time, the sale of citrus have helped the communities to bring in much needed cash income, with which they bought basic household necessities such as salts, kerosene, clothes and sponsored children’s education.
Every household in each gewogs had tree or two growing in their private land, which fruited every season just enough to help them earn cash. While they cultivated different types of cereal crops for subsistence consumption, Citrus is the only and main source of cash income to the people in Kheng.
Come winter, all the family members would be on their way to the nearest road head at Panbang, each carrying a basketful of Mandarin fruits on their back. Those who owned horses ferried the fruit on ponies enabling them to sell more fruits.
The ferrying entailed more than its fair share of drudgery when the path they traveled meant climbing mountains and crossing torrent rivers. However, it became all worth the struggle when cash strapped farmers are paid suitably for the fruits.
With news of the coming Gomphu-Panbang highway through their gewog, farmers rushed into conclusion and started growing citrus trees in orchards. They saw coming of roads as an end to their hardships of ferrying oranges on their backs. They saw huge potential in growing citrus, given the favorable climatic and soil conditions.
But, what citrus growers call a ‘strange disease’ had always harrowingly hampered their efforts. The citrus trees, farmers say, die without any reason. One citrus grower, Dhondup of Lamtang village, said upon closer inspection he found sawdust-like formation at the base of his orange trees. “After few weeks of detection of this sawdust, the tree dies,” Dhondup said.
Another farmer said that the citrus trees are drying suddenly. He said that many farmers are worried about how to make cash income since their main way for a living had always depended on the sale of Mandarin over the years.
The gewog Agriculture Extension officer, Sangay Tshering, said that Citrus trunk borer, Citrus shield bug and Chinese citrus fly are three common diseases in the gewog. But, he said the disease is not widespread.
He said that numerous farmers training have been imparted to the citrus growers on how to control such diseases. Some farmers were also taken for a study tour at Drujeygang of Dagana dzongkhag.
“During the training, I’ve recommended and advised them to soak cotton and seal the holes created by trunk borer,” said Sangay Tshering. He added that covering the holes with mud and cow dung are some of the remedies.
While for citrus 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 officer. He said that introduction of red Ant towards April and June is also known to be effective.
While for fruit dropping, he has advised farmers to collect all dropped fruits and dispose it in a pit sealed with ash. He also said that it is very difficult to convince the farmers. “But slowly,” he said, “farmers are coming to understand it.” For the interest of maintaining organic status, he has recommended applications of no chemical pesticides and insecticides.
As per the statistic maintained by gewog Agriculture extension, Goshing gewog produced 370,596 kgs of citrus fruits last year. The records also show that the gewog has 47,849 citrus trees with 30,979 trees bearing fruit.