The first commercial harvest of hazelnut in Wangdue is expected to happen this year. The project of planting the fruit trees began in 2014.

Mountain Hazelnut Venture (MH), which has continued the plantation in Wangdue every year since 2014, has more than 750 farmer partners or farming households registered.

The farmers grow about 300,000 hazelnut trees on more than 700-acre land.

Bhutan Mountain Hazelnut’s communications and training officer, Tshering Yangzom Kinlay, said that the harvest this year is expected from the mature and well-cared orchards.

MH has 11 field extension staff in Wangdue.

The dzongkhag’s agriculture officer, Sonam Zangpo, said that the dzongkhag helps facilitate between MH team and the farmers through activities such as farmers meetings, creating awareness, and providing technical and monitoring support.

He said that the dzongkhag encourages farmers to plant the trees in abandoned or fallowed land.  “Farmers will be able to earn some income this way.”

However, he said that planting hazelnut on prime production dry land and wetland is not allowed.

Tshering Yangzom Kinlay said that hazelnut could provide an alternate source of sustainable, long-term income for farmers, especially for those living in higher altitudes with limited cash crop options.

She added that the income stream would provide meaningful opportunities for families to stay on their land and to pay for education and other “quality of life” improvements. “Hazelnuts will also help preserve and improve soil, safeguarding it for future generations of farmers and provide a source of firewood, reducing collection pressures from forests.”

MH this year trained the farmers on the biology of hazelnut plants, plant phenology, pruning, irrigation, and nutrigation.

“MH is also training select, dedicated and high-performing farmers to become trainers through a training of trainers (ToT) programme to carry this knowledge to their communities,” Tshering Yangzom Kinlay said.

She said that this year MH would ensure that every farmer has the correct percentage of pollenizer trees planted evenly throughout the orchard and improve orchard management practices to optimise the current plantings.

She added that MH has also initiated the development of a demonstration orchard in Rubesa as part of the development of 20 demonstration orchards across 18 dzongkhags.

“The purpose of this orchard is to allow for farmer group trainings and to provide a controlled environment to conduct trials aimed at supporting our farmers with improved orchard management techniques to increase yields,” she said.  “The company is also exploring low cost water storage or irrigation pilots and electric fencing systems to help and guide farmers.”

The company harvested more than 20 tonnes of nut last year and expects over 80 tonnes of harvest this year, which are exported after processing.

Karma Cheki | Wangdue