MH says problem solved with pollinizers provided

Rajesh Rai | Chukha

Having heard the prospects of hazelnut, Tsagay of Tsimakha village in Chukha planted 175 hazelnut saplings in his 50 decimal land four years ago.

The hazelnut has grown and reached fruit-bearing stage. Unfortunately, they have not started fruiting. Tsagay is the “hazelnut tshogpa” of the village. He said about 30 farmers who ventured into hazelnut are waiting in Tsimakha.

“We have given up hope of earning from hazelnut,” said Tsagay. As the tshogpa, he knows the reason. He attributes the fruitlessness to the lack of male trees (pollinizers) when they planted the samplings four years ago.

The male trees were provided just few months ago.

In Chukha, by 2016, about 1.3 million hazelnut trees were planted in about 260 acres of private land that were left fallow in several gewogs.

At Tashigatshel, Sangay Zam has stopped tending to her 700 hazelnut trees in an acre of land, since last year.

“The trees are still there, but I have stopped taking care of them,” she said.

Sangay Zam said she spent about Nu 60,000 in works related to the plantation. She also claimed that some farmers had not received the male trees. Another farmer, Mikha Dorji said he spent about Nu 400,000 in planting more than 3,000 hazelnut saplings in more than 10 acres of land in Bjachho village. However, due to water problem, his plants didn’t do well, he added.

MH clarifies

Officials from the Mountain Hazelnuts (MH), a foreign direct investment company, clarified that when hazelnut trees were distributed, farmers were told that the pollinizer trees (for male pollen) would not be ready for at least two years, to which farmers had agreed and went ahead with planting the production varieties, even though the nuts would be delayed.

MH’s communication officer with the corporate department, Lhaki Woezer said this problem has been addressed after distributing pollinizer trees and the grafting programme.

On the delay in providing pollinizers, she said they had limited number of pollinizers because of production difficulties, which has now been resolved.

“In many of the orchards the pollinizer trees were planted a year or more later than the production varieties. Some patience and adjustments are always required as plants acclimatize but fundamentals are sound,” she said.

Lhaki Woezer also said that the grafting programme underway is the fastest method to fill the gap in more mature orchards.

“By 2021, they will see a very large commercial harvests.”

MH has invested more than Nu 20 million (M) on a large-scale grafting program in more than 4,000 acres of hazelnut orchards that will rapidly increase nut production. They also trained more than 150 field staffs to carry out the programme alongside more than 50 master grafters with the support of experts from the agriculture ministry. This year the company carried out grafting in 5,000 acres.

Lhaki Woezer said MH’s business model is a long-term partnership in which the foreign investor will receive no income for more than a decade despite investing millions of dollars.

“Likewise, the farmers invest their labour and inputs for a number of years prior to making a financial return,” she said. “The waiting time is generally less than with apples and oranges. Also, hazelnut’s risk from uncertain market demand and plant health is minimal, especially compared to these other crops.”

MH, the officer said has held advocacy programmes in more than 80 gewogs across the country, with more than 1,000 local officials, gewog administrators, RNR staffs, and growers to provide information on the pollinizer grafting programme.

In communities where water is scarce, MH has designed cost-efficient methods to collect, store, and distribute water to orchards and has equipped over 130 growing communities with materials and technical support to ensure water is available for irrigation during dry winter months.

With more than 200 field staffs stationed across 18 dzongkhags to provide technical guidance to growers, promoting intercropping and incentives to support mechanisation of orchard management are among many facilities the MH is providing.