There is a golden revolution sweeping the central Nepali midhills, bringing income to farmers. The cash crop is orange, and trees in orchards across Syangja, Dhading to Dhankuta are bursting with the fruit. This year saw a bumper harvest, and at present rates of growth Nepal's orange production will double in a few years.
Last year, Nepal produced 80,000 tons of the fruit and this year it is estimated to have crossed the 100,000 ton mark. The area under organge orchards has grown from 5,000 hectares five years ago to 14,000 hectares today. The biggest orange growing areas are in Tanahu, Dhankuta, Syangjya, Dhading and Kabhre.
Although Nepali oranges have only been sold domestically, exporters are now expanding to India and Bangaldesh as well. Experts say the reason for the export market opening up is that Nepali oranges ripen earlier than Indian or Bhutani fruits and they are also preferred by customers who like its thinner skin, its juiciness and sweeter taste. Five years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture exported 14.4 tons of oranges to Bangladesh at $246 per ton, of which farmers got a bonus of $1 per ton on top of the selling price. Today, private investors are selling directly and last year 5,000 tons were exported to Bangladesh alone.
However, Nepali oranges are more expensive than Bhutani and Indian oranges in Bangladesh because importers there have to pay double the tax for Nepali oranges. In fact, Indian traders are selling Nepali oranges in Bangladesh saying they are from Bhutan. Exporters say streamlining border procedures for the export route via Phulbari to Bangladesh would increase the market potential.
If the new technology developed in Lumle for cellar storage of oranges is replicated in other districts, it would allow longer storage and the ability for Nepali oranges to compete with cheap Indian imports throughout the season. The main market for Nepali oranges, however, is still Kathmandu where 36 tons of oranges were brought in daily for the past three months.