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Pema Dorji*

* Horticulture Research Officer, Renewable Natural Resources Research Center, West Central Region, Bajo, Wangduephodrang, Ministry of Agriculture, Royal Government of Bhutan

Bhutan is a small and extremely mountainous country with a surface area of 46,000 sq. km, located in the eastern Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by the Autonomous Region of China (Tibet) and to the east, west and south by India. The population is about 700,000, and more than 90% of the population live in rural communities comprising of a little over 67,000 households.

Bhutan has extremely diverse agro-climatic conditions due to major differences in altitude and rainfall as well as in slope characteristics. Roughly, the country could be divided into four physiographic zones - the southern foothills, the middle river valleys, the mountain slopes and the high Himalayas. Based on temperature and rainfall the country could be further sub-divided into six agro-climatic zones - wet sub-tropical, humid sub-tropical, dry sub-tropical, warm temperate, cool temperate and alpine zones as shown in Table 1.

Little is known about the history of deciduous fruit cultivation in Bhutan, as there is no documented evidence to draw information. The fact that traditionally fruits always occupied a prominent place on the altar of offering in all religious ceremonies lends support to the assumption that fruit cultivation must have been part of Bhutanese history, which could be traced as far back as the 7th century. Even now there are some existing orchards whose age could be more than 100 years. These orchards have all types of deciduous fruits like apricot, peach, pear, persimmon, walnut and chestnut and are found near almost all monasteries and district administration buildings in Bhutan.

Modern fruit cultivation however began in the reign of the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is widely regarded in Bhutan as the Father of The Nation. It was his vision, which, as clearly stated in the foreword of his book on Planting an Orchard (1968) “Our country, the Kingdom of Bhutan, land of Buddhism, is a wonderful place. The variations in altitude and climatic conditions in different regions of Bhutan provide great scope for the growing of different fruits.” In the absence of means of transport, however, fruits were grown in the past for domestic consumption only.

Table 1. Description of the Six Major Agro-ecological Zones.



Temperature °C


Monthly Max.

Monthly Min.

Mean Annual







Cool Temperate






Warm Temperate






Dry Sub-tropical






Humid Sub-tropical






Wet Sub-tropical






Source: Bhutan Research Strategy and Plan, the RNR Sector, May 1992.
But now, with the construction of roads, surplus fruits can be exported to the neighboring parts of India, which have a tropical climate but an insatiable market for temperate fruits. We should avail ourselves of this excellent opportunity. Not only is this vision the beginning of modern fruit cultivation in Bhutan but also his personal interest which enabled him to collect different fruits from various nurseries in northern India during his frequent visits in the 1960s.

Prior to the inception of the Five-Year-Development Plan (1962-67), fruit cultivation was limited to backyard cultivations only, meant solely for family consumption. With the beginning of the First Five-Year-Development Plan, fruit cultivation was identified as a potential source of cash income for the farmers and thus the first few commercial plantations were established. Apple was then the most important deciduous fruit crop introduced from India and grown on a commercial scale. Other deciduous fruits like apricot, peach, plum, pear and persimmon were still cultivated at subsistence level and were not of much economic significance.

Commercial cultivation of apple took some time to have significant economic impact owing to a relatively undeveloped road network and marketing systems. It was only in the late eighties that apple production had risen to the level of major commercial importance as a result of a better road network and the development of an export market to Bangladesh.


Deciduous fruits grown in the backyards include Asian pear, peach, apricot, persimmon and walnut. Almost all of these have their indigenous species in the wild. The exotic and commercially cultivated deciduous fruits include apple, peach, plum, apricot, Bartlett pear, Nashi, and cherry. There is now a growing tendency to replace the old monastery orchards also with improved cultivars that are now available. By and large, the most extensive orchards at the moment are the apple orchards followed by peach and walnut as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Type and Number of Deciduous Fruits Grown in Bhutan.


Number of Trees (‘000)

Area in Hectares






















Source: Baseline Survey Report (1997), RNR-RC, Western Region, Yusipang.
The main cultivars of apple are Red Delicious, Royal Delicious and Golden Delicious, which account for over 80% of the apple area. These cultivars were first introduced in the 1960s from the northern Indian States of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. By the 1980s a host of new improved cultivars were brought in from Japan, which now constitute about 15% of the apple areas (see Appendix 1 for species, cultivar and rootstock details).

Apple is generally grown in temperate areas from about 1800m to 3000m. According to the preliminary survey carried out by the Integrated Horticulture Development Project in 1992, there were about 365,000 apple trees in the country, covering roughly about 1400 ha. The present apple population is estimated to be around 565,000 based on the average annual sale of 50,000 plants from the Druk Seed Corporation in the last five years. Of this total, about 90% are found in the western part of the country covering the three Dzongkhags (districts) - Paro, Thimphu and Haa. The other 10% are found in the central district of Bumthang.

Unlike the beginning during the First Five Year Plan, 1962, apple growing has now become a major commercial venture. This is brought about vastly by the improved network of roads and marketing system from the late 1980s. Between 1960 and 1990 there has been a marked increase in the area under apple and other deciduous fruits. The opening of the export market to Bangladesh in the late 80s has created awareness among the farmers of the three western Dzongkhags, who are the primary producers of apple. As a result, the cash income and the nutritional status of the farming communities of these three Dzongkhags has greatly improved. The three Dzongkhags together exported about 11,000 MT from estimated production of about 15,000 MT in 1997, for a value of Nu.169.6 million equivalent to US$ 4.24 million (Table 3). The production is expected to increase to 23,000 MT in the next few years as the vast number of trees planted in the last decade come into bearing.

Table 3. Apple Production During the Years 1995, 1996 and 1997




Value in Nu. million













Source: Trade Statistics, Food Corporation of Bhutan, 1997.

Traditional orchards found near the monasteries comprise of all seedling trees. The knowledge of clonal propagation of deciduous fruits came along only with the plants introduced from India. However, the country took some time to establish its own nursery industry and it was only in the last eight years or so that it could produce its own requirements of fruit plants. Between 1960 and 1990, the annual fruit plant requirements were met by importing from nurseries in Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, India. From 1991, the government nursery under the umbrella of the National Seed and Plant Production Program (NASEPP) was able to meet the national requirement of fruit plants. Initially this nursery used to produce and distribute its own plants but now it has limited its role to selling plants produced by its registered private growers.

Right from the start the technique of vegetative propagation was practiced. The rootstocks were propagated through stooling and hardwood cuttings while the scions were collected from mother trees. The most common form of grafting carried out was the whip and tongue grafting method and the most common budding method was the chip budding technique. All species except walnut were propagated through grafting and budding. Until 1994, walnut was propagated through raising seedlings from seeds collected from bearing trees. From the winter of 1994 however, the first batch of walnut grafts were distributed to the farmers. These grafts were propagated through the Hot Callusing Device developed by H.B. Lagerstedt, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Corvallis, Oregon, U.S.A.


Commercial deciduous fruit orchards are established in highlands which are not suitable for paddy cultivation. This again is the policy formulated at the time of the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, and which again falls in line with the noble ideas found in his book “When Planting an Orchard” he postulates “Our twin objective in agricultural development should be to achieve self-sufficiency in food production and to maximize wealth by growing cash crops in the rest of the available land. I would strongly advise that paddy land should not be utilized for growing horticultural crops. Lands which have been abandoned, and other pieces of fertile land which can be brought under cultivation should only be utilized for raising fruit and vegetable crops”. Following these guidelines, orchards have been established located mostly on mountain slopes in between the cultivated fields and the forest cover. They are also found in the drylands in the valley bottoms. Orchards on the steep mountain slopes are terraced while the gentle slopes are planted with deciduous fruits along the contour.

The orchard establishment activities start with the fall season, when site clearing is done. Layout and pit digging is carried out in winter when the farmers have less field activities, as well as to allow sufficient time for the organic materials to decompose and the pit soil to settle. The recommended pit size is 3x3ft, and the most common layout followed is the triangular planting method. The standard spacing for the plants grafted on the semi-dwarfing clonal rootstocks is 3x3m, and for those on seedling rootstocks is 6x6m.

Planting is done in late winter/early spring. Enough organic materials in the form of leaf mould and FYM mixed with recommended NPK fertilizer are added to the top soil set aside when digging each pit.


The newly planted trees are trained immediately after planting by heading back at 24 - 36 cm above ground. Subsequent annual pruning is carried out from the second year to build a good tree frame. The old orchards, however, did not receive good training and pruning as compared to the more recent plantings, owing to lack of technical backup support in the past. These orchards are now being gradually rejuvenated by top-working with improved varieties acceptable to the present export market needs.

Annual application of manures and fertilizers is done in winter with leaf mould, FYM and recommended NPK at the time of basin preparation. Mulching is done immediately after, to preserve moisture and control weed growth in the growing season. Supplementary irrigation is carried out only in the research stations and a few demonstration orchards under a feasibility study program.

With the increasing number of orchards the problem of pests and diseases has also been increasing. This is a serious factor that affects the productivity of the orchards.


The most serious disease which destroyed many orchards in the central district of Bumthang in mid 1980s is the Apple Scab (Venturia inaequalis). In the past, the control measures taken were severely hampered by the poor access to plant protection chemicals. The situation has improved with the establishment of the National Plant Protection Center (NPPC) in 1983 funded by the EEC. The NPPC has now developed a Captan spray schedule to control scab.

The Powdery Mildew (Podosphaera leucotricha) is more damaging in young orchards as it affects the young shoots which if not treated in time leads to total destruction of the growing tips. Preventive measures are usually taken by spraying with Bavistin and Calyxin fungicides. Curative measures are taken by pruning-off the infected shoots and spraying with fungicides.

Collar Rot (Phytophthora cactorum) is associated with orchards with heavy and inadequately drained soil. It is also more pronounced in plants on MM106 rootstocks. Its incidence is controlled by adopting proper management practices of good drainage, proper planting method and good weed control.

Brown Rot (Sclerotinia fructigena) causes serious damage to fruits both on the trees as well as in storage. Infection usually starts with wounds caused by insects and mechanical injuries. Control involves spraying with Benzimidazole.

Peach Leaf Curl (Taphrina deformans) causes severe deformation of entire leaves on a peach plant. According to plant pathologists from the NPPC, the primary cause is aphid attacks followed by secondary infection by the fungus. Recommended control is spraying with copper oxychloride.

Apricot Brown Rot (Monilinia fruticola) causes severe losses to apricot production and is the single most damaging disease to the crop. It is controlled to a certain extent by benzimidazole.


The most serious pest which affects apple orchards is the Woolly Aphid (Eriosoma lanigerum). The control recommended for this pest is winter spraying with Lime Sulphur Liquid and Chlorpyriphos in the growing season.

Another serious pest which destroys the apple trees is the Stem and Twig Borer (Oberea posticata). This problem is pronounced in poorly managed and older orchards. Control is done by close observation and pruning the affected parts.

The adult of the Leaf and Fruit Feeding Beetles (Popilla sp, Hyperstylus sp, Microserica sp.) can seriously damage the foliage and fruit of most fruit trees. Complete defoliation may occur in young plants. The control spray should be timed to coincide with the feeding time of these beetles. Spraying with chlorpyriphos controls the infestation.

Trunk Borer (Anoplophora sp.) is the most damaging pest to the walnut trees, killing the plant outright if not detected early and controlled in time.

The use of plant protection chemicals is still very limited, owing to limited supply and strict regulations set by the National Plant Protection Center. Instead the center is carrying out studies at numerous sites to develop a sustainable Integrated Pest Management program.


The extent of intercropping varies from orchard to orchard. In some orchards with good soil farmers intercrop soya beans, potato and chili, while orchards with steep slopes and poor soil are left fallow. However, intercropping in general is not widely practiced at present.


Harvesting of fruit starts with the early variety of cherry (Seneka) by the end of May. Next are the early varieties of peach in June, followed by the Japanese pear variety Hosui. The earliest variety of apple to be harvested is the Japanese variety Hana-iwai in July followed by Nebuta. The main apple harvest season starts from August and extends up to October. The last varieties of apple to be harvested are the Japanese varieties Mutsu and Fuji.

At present, apple dominates deciduous fruit production in Bhutan, followed by peach. The average yield of apple is relatively low owing to low plant density (250 trees/hectare), low level of management and less inputs. As a result, the average yield is reported at 45kg/tree or 11 MT per hectare. Further, the quality of fruit is also variable owing to low level of management. The advantage associated with the Bhutanese apple, however, is the low usage of pesticides compared to the world’s major apple growing countries.


The production of apple on a commercial scale is a relatively recent development, primarily due to the development of roads and the export market. The export market is the single most important factor that resulted in the recent dramatic increase in the number of plantations; and it could absorb almost 100% of the apple produced, if not for the variable quality of the produce. Of the total annual production, about 30% of the produce does not meet the export requirements and hence is sold in the local market.

The Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) operates auction yards in three border towns close to the border with India, where the farmers take their horticultural produce including vegetables, and get good prices. The Agro-Food Processing Factory in Thimphu, established with the help of DANIDA, and located within the apple growing areas, constitutes a major local outlet not only for apples but also for other deciduous fruits. The regular Sunday market is the only form of wholesale market which is also a good retail outlet. At the moment, there are very few retail shops selling fruits primarily because of lack of good storage and packaging facilities.

At present, Bangladesh is the largest importer of Bhutanese fruits, importing about 70% of the total produce. The drawback with the Bangladesh market is that it demands apples of small to medium size only, which not only results in huge rejects of the common varieties like the Delicious group. At present, there are no markets for the large size fruit of improved Japanese varieties like Fuji, Sekaiichii and Mutsu. Therefore, there is a growing concern among the growers of the large sized apples, and demand on the government to explore means and ways to market those fruits to other markets in the region. Hopefully, the on-going UNDP assisted Integrated Horticulture Development Program may help ease this situation in the near future.


Processing of fruit products in Bhutan is constrained by the lack of small-scale processing units to suit low volume productions in areas far away from the road points, the shortage of labor and difficulties in transportation. The main fruit processing facilities in Bhutan at the moment are the Agro-Industries Ltd. in Thimphu, and the Bhutan Fruit Products Ltd. in Samchi. These two factories produce a wide range of fruit juices, jams, jelly, fruit cocktails, peach and apricot halves, cordials and similar products. The products are of high quality and are mainly marketed to major cities in India and Bangladesh.


Bhutan has a huge potential to produce several deciduous fruit crops due to a wide range of agro-climatic conditions. Apart from growing apples and other deciduous fruits in the temperate zones, it could also grow peach, pear, apricot and grapes in its warm temperate zones, where there exists ample land resources to be exploited for this purpose.

If production is increased and quality improved, it could enjoy the benefits of close markets in India, Bangladesh and other countries in the region. Bhutan has the potential for the production of high quality produce in a clean environment; and the production seasons are different from most countries in the region. The other important factor is that the farmers are now aware of the benefits of growing fruit crops and are willing to cooperate in production development programs. Horticultural produce has provided the best opportunities for the farmers to earn cash income, which is expected to provide further impetus to develop fruit crops like peach, pear, apricot, plums, cherries and grapes.

The major physical constraints to fruit production development are primarily due to the mountainous nature of the country. The narrow valleys with steep slopes restrict large-scale production of fruits by limiting mechanization. The road network is still not well-developed, restricting transport of goods and produce from the farm to the market. In addition to the inadequate road network, horticultural production is constrained by limited infrastructure and facilities in terms of marketing, grading and packaging, storage and processing. As a result, there is limited access to the export markets outside India and Bangladesh.

Another limiting factor is at the institutional level, where fruit cultivation received only recent emphasis owing to late exploration of markets and also because the priority in the past was more on the production of grains to meet the national goal of food self-sufficiency. This has resulted in a shortage of trained personnel in the horticulture sector, less research activities and poor extension services.

In addition, information on horticultural production, markets and trade is limited and not reliable, leading to uncertainties as to the real commercial potential of different crops, and making effective policy and strategic planning difficult.

At the field level, yields are often low due to such problems as lack of knowledge among farmers in fruit production, poor varieties, low quality planting material, poor orchard management practices, and pest and disease problems.

In summary, the exploitation of the full potential of deciduous fruit cultivation in the country has not been possible due to the following constraints:


As mentioned earlier, the horticulture development policy is based on the wisdom and the vision of the third King. This national commitment is the key to long-term success in horticultural development, and is particularly relevant in the attainment of the national development goal in the horticulture sector. Its aim is to increase production of horticultural crops both for domestic and export markets, leading to higher nutrition intake, higher farm incomes, and greater economic growth and export revenues.

The long term and short term objectives of horticultural development are:

Long Term Objective: “To optimize the contribution of the horticulture industry to the welfare of present and future generation of Bhutanese farmers and consumers with emphasis on improved cash income, food security, higher nutritional standards and export earnings”.

Short Term Objective: “To improve the existing management practices and to increase production and quality of those horticultural commodities with a comparative advantage in a sustainable manner in all production environments through interdisciplinary research, extension and marketing”.

To meet the objectives the following strategies are being adopted:

To achieve the objectives and strategies, the following activities are being carried out:

Integrated Horticulture Development Program

Until the initiation of the first Integrated Horticultural Development Project (IHDP-I), funded by the UNDP and executed by FAO from 1990-1994, there was no systematic research in deciduous fruit cultivation. This project however, assisted in establishing a basic infrastructure and an action program for horticulture research and development by studying production and market prospects, and strengthening the national capacity through training, germplasm introduction and technical assistance. The main output of the project has been the preparation of a comprehensive long-term masterplan which has culminated into the on-going UNDP assisted Integrated Horticultural Development Program (IHDP-II). This program is geared towards an all-round development of horticulture covering all aspects such as production, research, extension, post-harvest activities and marketing. Its implementation commenced in July 1997. The program is aimed at establishing a viable and vibrant horticultural industry in the long run.

The Integrated Horticulture Development Program (IHDP-II) consists of six sub-programs - a) Coordination sub-program; b) Technology generation sub-program; c) Extension sub-program; d) Post-harvest sub-program; e) Marketing sub-program; and f) Aromatic and Medicinal Plants sub-program.

National Horticultural Research

The national research program in agriculture consists of research in forestry, livestock, field crops and horticulture. Horticultural research has received equal footing with research in field crops, livestock and forestry which are the main sub-sectors in the Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) Sector. The National Horticultural Research Center is based at Khangma in eastern Bhutan. This center has horticulture research as its main mandate apart from carrying out research in other fields. Horticulture research is also being carried out in other RNR research centers although their mandates are in livestock, forestry and field crops, based on the agro-ecological regions of the centers.


Commercial deciduous fruit production in Bhutan is as old as the process of planned development. Yet the progress in this area is still not comparable to the progress made in such fields as hydro-electricity, telecommunication, education and health.

Horticulture is potentially the most important sub-sector in the RNR sector for providing cash income, as well as in improving the nutritional intake of the rural population. Because of its geographical situation, Bhutan has a considerable comparative advantage in the production of horticultural crops for which agro-climatic conditions are more favorable than in the neighboring countries. A large range of different fruits, from temperate to tropical, can be produced due to the existence of varied agro-climatic conditions. It is close to large and developing markets of India and Bangladesh, as well as to other regional south-east Asian markets, and can produce a range of different products in different seasons than most other competitors. It is expected that the long term development of the horticulture industry will be firmly rooted with the implementation of the Integrated Horticulture Development Program.


1. Ministry of Agriculture, 1994. Masterplan for Horticulture Development, Program Framework, Vol. 1.

2. Ministry of Agriculture, 1996. Research Strategies and Plans for Horticulture Research.


Details of Species, Cultivars and Rootstocks of Deciduous Fruits Grown in Bhutan.






1. Red delicious

1.Apple seedling

2. Royal delicious

2.Wild pear seedling

3. Golden delicious

3. MM 106

4. New Jonagold

4. MM 111

5. Gala

5. Bitter felder

6. Akane

7. Nebuta

8. Kogetsu

9. Fuji

10. Mutsu

11. Sekaiichi

12. Shuko

13. Tsugaru

14. Kitanosachii

15. Haniwaii

16. Starking

17. Grannysmith

18. Jonathan



1. July Elberta

1. Local peach seedling

2. Floradsun

2. GF 677

3. Nonome wase

4. Shimizu Hakuto

5. Redhaven



1. Stanley

1. Local peach seedling

2. Santarosa

2. St. Julian “A”

3. GF677



1. Kagzi

1. Local peach seedling

2. New castle

2. GF 677

3. Kaisha



1. Seneka

1. Colt

2. Jabouley

2. Mahaleb

3. Royal Ann



1. William Bartlett

1.Wild pear seedling

2. Commice

2. Kirchensaller



1. Local Aanday

1. Local seedling

2. Hana Fuju

3. Jiro

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