Monday, November 26, 2018

Know your Hazelnut Project

The principal promoter of hazelnut project in Bhutan - the Mountain Hazelnut Venture (MHV) - is targeting a sum total of some eleven million hazelnut trees by the time they are done with the project. But this epic horticulture fortune has unexpectedly hit a snag. Hitting snags is nothing uncommon in business ventures, whether big or small. No one has monopoly over success - the very best planned and financed ventures are subject to failure.

It is not the fear of failure that is bothering me - it is the scale of failure that is scary. It is the typical nonchalance of the Bhutanese people, despite the looming tragedy, that is driving me into a state of delirium. Some of the players in this venture may not survive the impact that will be brought to bear on them.

The sheer size of the operation scares me. Let us look at the numbers.

11,000,000 No. of trees that will be planted
37,000          Total acreage (land area) to be covered by the plantations
15,000          Smallholder farmers spread over all 20 Dzongkhags
60,000          No. of rural Bhutanese who will be impacted
8%                Percentage of national population that could be affected

The trial plantation of hazelnut trees in Bhutan began in October 2008 in Rangzhikhar village, Trashigang. The project promoters had claimed that the trees would start to fruit within three years of plantation, and the farmers’ pockets would be lined with bundles of cash. Ten years hence, the trees show no sign of fruiting and the farmers’ pockets remain unfilled.

The problem is said to be poor or no pollination. It is believed that for some strange reason, this problem is the result of a mismatch in timing - the crucial pollen-shedding period not occurring when the female blossoms are at its most receptive.

Hazelnut trees are monoecious - both the male and female flowers grow on the same tree. However, they are self-incompatible. In other words, to bear nuts, it needs to cross-pollinate. The project has planted pollenizers in the plantations but for some unknown reason the pollination has not occurred. Meaning, the pollenizers are the wrong variety.

This is a disaster. From all accounts, the project is looking at solving the problem but I fear that they took too long to look for solutions. They should have acted earlier – in my view on the fifth year of plantation, at the latest. They should have been alerted to the problem sooner.

But now the hunt is on for a solution to the problem.

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