The failure of mandarin orange in Pemagatshel is clear from the low volume of export reject fruits being brought to the integrated food processing plant (IFPP) at Shumar.
At this time last year the plant was flooded with export reject mandarin from places as far as Samdrupjongkhar and Trashiyangtse.
“This year we did not get as much reject fruits but we are optimistic,” said a 53-year-old member of IFPP group, Aum Sangay. The plant pays Nu 10 per kilo of fruit.
The IFPP has already produced about 3,000 kilos of pulp. The group is expecting the business to pick up as the export season peaks.
“We can operate machines and produce pulp on our own,” said Aum Sangay.
Aum Sangay, who along with some group members underwent training at Bhutan Agro in Thimphu last year, said they even know how to produce finished products like orange squash. The finished products are marketed in eastern dzongkhags under Bhutan Agro label.
The plant is doing fairly well compared with last year, and the group member has also expanded. From 10 members last year, there are today 18 members in all.
Sangay Phuntsho, a student of Sherubtse College in Kanglung who spends his winter working at the plant, said, “I understand that this plant has the potential to provide income generating activities by producing value added foods. Some of us someday will have to come back and take this initiative forward.” The group, he says, now needs to diversify and reduce dependence on citrus alone. “There is a serious need to look for alternative.” Mandarin orange has been failing in the dzongkhag.
Aum Sangay has already begun planting pear that can also be processed at the plant, and she has been encouraging others to follow her lead. “If all of us grow pear in large quantity, we can add value at the plant. Even without processing there is market for pear. I make around Nu 10,000 every year from the sale of fruit,” she said.
The group has saved about Nu 300,000 from the activities since the inception of the plant. During the first few years, the members worked for free to save as much as possible.
“We now pay our members daily wage for working at the plant. We have recovered our initial seed money too. With new members joining us, we will have to decide what to do with our savings to pave way for a fresh beginning,” said Aum Sangay.