Jumla farmers face difficulties due to transportation haltEvery year during the harvest season, traders and businessmen would reach the orchards to purchase apples but no one has come this year, say farmers.
Ruben Bhandari, a farmer in Ward No. 2 of Chandannath Municipality, has 45 apple trees in his orchard with fully ripened apples ready to be harvested. But the apples will most likely not make their way to the markets, says Bhandari.
“Vehicular movement along all roads leading to the district headquarters, Jumla Bazaar, has been stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “Every year during the harvest season, traders and businessmen would come to our orchards to purchase apples but no one has come this year.”
For the past five months, only vehicles carrying daily essentials are allowed on the road along the Karnali Highway. Vehicles are barred from the rural roads that link villages to the district headquarters.
“This year our village is empty of outsiders who would usually come to us to buy apples,” Bhandari said.
It is not only the pandemic that threatens to bring Jumla apple farmers on their knees; the poor harvest this year due to bad weather conditions has also hampered their sales.
“I sold apples worth Rs 60,000 last year. This year, I have apples worth only Rs 15,000 in my orchard,” said Bhandari. “But even selling those is difficult this year.”
According to the District Agriculture Development Office, apple production in Jumla has lowered by 50 percent this year. Balakram Devkota, chief at the Agriculture Development Office, said, “Last year, the total production of apples was 12,000 metric tonnes whereas this year we only have an estimated 5,100 tonnes of apples. The production has lowered because of hailstones and frost.”
Chaiti Bista, an apple farmer in Patarasi Rural Municipality, is also burdened with financial worries.
“We experienced bad weather this year and our harvest is poor,” she said. “And to think we won’t even be able to sell at all is worrisome.”
On August 13, the District Administration Office in Jumla had imposed an indefinite prohibitory order to contain the spread of coronavirus. This prolonged prohibitory order has put many apple farmers out of business.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, some farmers in Jumla have started to stack apples from their orchards in bamboo baskets and take them to nearby market places. But the local markets do not offer a good price for organic apples, says Bhandari.
In light of the difficulties faced by apple farmers, the District Administration Office has allowed the transportation of apples in vehicles carrying essential supplies to the district headquarters. But the farmers themselves have to make arrangements to take their apples to Jumla Bazaar.
Om Prasad Devkota, the assistant chief district officer, said, “The District Administration Office has imposed a prohibitory order to contain the coronavirus. However, the office has not halted the transportation of daily essentials, including apples.”
But for farmers, this is not a viable solution since the carriers charge a hefty amount to carry their apples. Bharat Bhandari, an apple farmer in Chandannath, said, “We are compelled to use carriers that transport daily essentials to carry our apples. But these carriers charge exorbitant transport fares.”
A decade ago, the 15th district council had declared Jumla as an organic district. Thereafter, apple farming has taken the district by storm. Jumla’s apples are in high demand for their crunch and sweetness. Farmers in all seven rural municipalities and a municipality in the district cultivate apples, particularly the Golden, Delicious and Fuji varieties.
In the current fiscal year, the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (Apple Superzone) has provided cardboard boxes to the farmers in Jumla to help them organise their supply method.
“With the government’s support, apple farming has become the main source of income for local farmers in the last few years,” said Kantika Sejuwal, mayor of Chandannath Municipality in Jumla.
“This year, the supply has been disrupted due to the pandemic. But the municipal office has decided to allow carriers loaded with apples to go out of the district. The District Administration Office in Jumla is also positive about this decision,” said Sejuwal.
Nawaraj Bhandari, chief at the Apple Superzone, said, “Since traders haven’t been able to come to Jumla to buy apples from the farms, the farmers are transporting apples out of the district on goods carriers. But it is costly and cuts into their profits.”
“The administration is ready to help farmers and businessmen when needed. We have allowed local businessmen to form an ‘apple collection centre’ in various parts of the district where they can collect apples,” said Devkota, the assistant CDO. “Until now, none of the businessmen or farmers has visited our office to request for passes for apple transportation.”
In Jumla, apples can be grown in 10,000 hectares of land at altitude ranging from 2,600 metres to 3,500 metres, according to agriculturists.