Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Hazelnut Project: More Questions Than Answers

The controversy marred hazelnut project has thrown up a slew of questions, in the aftermath of the ongoing search for a solution to the none-pollenating problem in the hazelnut plantations across the country. Principal among the questions being asked are:

a.  Is planting of hazelnut trees a gainful endeavor for the farmers?
b.  Are the farmers getting a fair price?
c.  How does economic return from hazelnuts compare with those of other crops?

In my conversations with many people on the subject, the above questions get asked, repeatedly. While these questions may be relevant strictly from the academic point of view, to me, they are milk on the floor.

Unless the farmers have been coerced or made to sign on the dotted lines under duress, the project promoters cannot be held responsible for decisions that the farmers made consciously and with their eyes wide open. If the farmers have chosen to plant the hazelnut trees on their land, they had every right to make that decision. If the price offered to the farmers was acceptable to them, they had the right to do so. Unless the farmers were mislead with falsehood and premeditated intention to dupe them, the project cannot be held responsible.

I also do not agree that the project should be held responsible - for delayed fruiting of the trees. In nature nothing is certain. It is not an exact science - the very best of planning can go wrong. The farmers have entered into a commercial transection and they have signed a contractual agreement with the project. Unless the terms of the agreement spell out that the project should compensate them for delayed fruiting, for whatever reason, they have to be prepared to accept the unwritten force majeure clause - the project should be indemnified of all responsibilities - for any act of God.

Not only that, this project is funded in large part by responsible and respectable organizations such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (IFC) and Global Agriculture & Food Security Program (GAFSP). Unless this is a case of dereliction of duty, doubtless these organizations would have, collectively or individually, exercised rigorous stewardship over the project’s implementation and its progress.

Having said all that, I do have a number of issues with the project -principal among them are the following three:

~ Why did the project take nearly a decade to act? Why was the problem allowed to fester for so long?
   Is there an element of irresponsibility in the project's inaction?

~ How did it happen that the project was allowed to deviate from the MoU - of using only barren
   and degraded land? Why was prime agriculture land, in some cases irrigated land, allowed to be used for
   planting the hazelnut trees?

~ Who authorized the use of fertilizers and pesticides in the plantations, when the country's stated policy is 
    to achieve 100% organic farming?

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