More and more farmers are planting the nut tree to turn their fallow fields to orchards

MHV: If fallowing land is a growing concern in the country, the prospect of cash income from selling hazelnut is encouraging farmers to turn their fields into hazelnut plantations.

Since early 2013, Thinley from Tangsibi in Ura, Bumthang stopped worrying about leaving his 1.5 acres of dry land fallow, on which cultivation stopped 13 years ago.  The farmer has planted over 420 hazelnut saplings, distributed free of cost from the Mountain Hazelnut Venture (MHV).

Before 2013, Thinley cultivated only 1.5 acres of total three acres with potato, buckwheat and barley.  The other half was left fallow. “I couldn’t cultivate all, as there is a shortage of workers and wild animals damaged the crop,” he said.

Another farmer, Sonam Tenzin, planted over 420 hazelnut saplings in an acre of fallow land. “Since I’m growing old and can’t work, I want to capitalise on hazelnut,” Sonam Tenzin said.  Like him, his neighbour Dorji Wangchuk is counting on the 200 hazelnut saplings he planted in 2013. “It’s like my pension,” he said.

Most farmers are now switching to growing the nut than regular crops like potato, barley and buckwheat.

Most of the villagers in Ura Dozhi and Pangkhar also turned to hazelnut plantation since 2013.

All the 56 households from Dozhi would have planted at least some hazelnut trees, of which over 20 households would have cultivated around 0.70-1 acre, according the to village tshogpa, Gembo Tshering.

Every chiwog in Chumey also ventured to hazelnut plantation according to its gup, Tandin Phurba.  Villages like Phurjoen where over 40 acres of land were left fallow are now capitalising on hazelnut.

According to MHV, about 323,500 hazelnut trees were distributed to 668 farmers in Bumthang.  The project has brought 693 acres of private fallow land under plantation.  Five-acres of distribution centre with a capacity of 1.5 million saplings was also opened in Bumthang.

So far, MHV has distributed almost 3 million trees to over 5,000 farming households with a registered area of over 8,000 acres in 11 dzongkhags of eastern, central and western Bhutan.  MHV director, Lhatu, said that the project still encouraged absentee landlords to take interest in hazelnut plantation on fallow as well as barren lands.

“We strongly encourage that as an activity to generate alternate income,” Lhatu said.

The director also said the project encourages young entrepreneurs to venture to large-scale plantation of hazelnut trees, by taking government or private lands on lease to make sustainable income through self-employment to help curb rural-urban migration.

For 2015, MHV plans to add an additional 1.5 million trees to its nursery space, besides commencing factory development in Mongar.  The project also targets distribution of over 3.5 million trees by 2015 across the country.

Farmers are welcoming the initiative.

“I’ve applied for more saplings because I want to cultivate hazelnut trees on another half an acre of my fallow land,” Sonam Tenzin said.

By Tempa Wangdi