Ten years since the hazelnut plantation started in the East of the country, there has barely been any fruiting. Thousands of farmers in all the 20 Dzongkhags (Districts) have been engaged in planting hazelnut trees - covering thousands upon thousands of acres of land - in some cases fertile agriculture land, including irrigation land.
While the push to bring more and more land into hazelnut plantation has been relentless and hugely successful, year after year the trees remained fruitless. What is admirable is that in the face of such miserable failure, the project promoters remained steadfast and unrelenting - their plantation coverage ranged from 400 Mtrs. to all the way to 3,000 Mtrs. They remained resolute, regardless of the fact that the trees were not fruiting. It is as if they were consumed by an insatiable hunger to plant more and more trees, almost verging on the insane. The fact that there was no yield did not seem to bother them.
One has to admire the dedication of the project promoters. In the face of mounting failure and losses, they kept on. But there is only so much that one can take - at some point one has to wake up to the reality that something is not quite right. Rightly, at long last the project realized that there is something wrong and that a solution to the decade long problem needs a solution. They now began to look for answers and solutions.
One solution they are said to be looking at is: importing of pollenizer saplings. This is a possibility - but it has two problems:
One, the saplings will start to flower only after the third year of planting – without flowers they will not produce pollens. Thus, they do not solve the problem of few thousand acres of plantations that are currently host to few million hazelnut trees aged anywhere from few days to 10 years. Even then, we can still not be sure that the imported pollenizers will be the right variety that will work.
Two, importing saplings may not be permitted in terms of the MoU that is untraceable for scrutiny. Given the numbers that were envisaged, I doubt that import of saplings by the millions would have been allowed. In addition, the NPPC and the BAFRA may not have the human resource – or even the technical capability - to undertake random sampling of the saplings, for pests and plant diseases, when they arrive Bhutan. It would be suicidal to allow import of plant saplings, without ensuring that they undergo rigorous phytosanitary determination. Do we have the competence to undertake the tests necessary? Do we have the storage facility, if quarantine is called for?
In-country grafting from few of the successful pollenizer trees is said to be a possibility - but I have not heard of this route being considered by the project. It will be a slow process - but a lot safer and less expensive process.
Whatever solution is considered, the government has to step in and take the leadership, since national interest is at stake. If import of saplings is the only workable solution, we need to allow it - but under very, very controlled conditions because the last thing we need are alien pests and diseases to be introduced, merely to protect one solitary project.
While we must look for a solution in right earnest, and help the promoters find a solution, we have to also ensure that neither the stick should break, nor the snake must die.
That being that, the next question that begs asking is: What do the clueless farmers do, under the circumstance?