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Ground Apple: No more a cash crop

Ground apple, locally known as Yuese Yacon, once a highly-priced cash crop in Tsirang, is gradually losing its charm among the growers. Not many farmers in the district grow the fruit on large scales for commercial purposes now. This, the farmers say, is because the tuber is no longer able to fetch good prices in the market. Today, most families grow the fruit only for self-consumption.

Farmers in the district started growing ground apples in 2016. They began mass production of the tuber in 2019 after the erstwhile Ministry of Agriculture and Forests legalised its sale and production in the country in 2018.

Amir Rai from Dunglagang Gewog was one of the first farmers to grow the fruit on a large scale. The IT graduate says a kilogramme of the fruit used to fetch him up to Nu 700. However, the price started decreasing in the following years.

As a result, he stopped mass cultivation of the fruit. Today, his farm has just one plant meant for producing seed.

“In the initial years, I sold a kilogramme of ground apple at Nu 600 to 700. But later, most fellow farmers got ample ground apple seeds and started growing the fruit, as it was easy to grow. This is how the price started decreasing over the years,” said Amir Rai, a farmer.

Similarly, Monbir Chuwan who is also a university graduate used to cultivate ground apples for commercial purposes. But not anymore.

“I have grown the fruit around fifty-one-acre farmland. But now I only have a few plants for self-consumption. Unlike other fruits, ground apples cannot be made into other products through value addition,” said Monbir Chuwan, another farmer.

The story is no different in other gewogs of the district.

“We cannot sell the fruit at all in Tsirang now. But some farmers are taking it to Thimphu and fetching only Nu 50 per kilogram. From growing it on a large scale, I now grow it only for self-consumption,” said Aga Nidhi Acharya, a farmer.

“I also started growing the fruit after I saw fellow farmers making good income from the sale of the tuber. The production was very good that year. But it didn’t go as expected as I couldn’t find customers later,” said Tashi Lhamo, another farmer.

Agriculture officials say a lack of knowledge on the health benefits of the ground apple could be one of the reasons why there is a dearth of customers. The officials also say it is easy to grow the fruit as it propagates fast within a short period.

Studies have found that ground apple helps maintain blood pressure, reduce body weight and can also help cure diabetes.

Pema Tshewang, Tsirang

Edited by Phub Gyem