Six years after villagers of Zobel, Nanong and Khar gewogs in Pemagatshel  planted hazelnut trees, the villagers are still waiting for the plant to give them fruits.

The villagers claim that the Mountain Hazelnut Venture Pvt Ltd guaranteed that the trees would bear fruits three years after plantation and generate income for them.

They also claim they have an agreement drawn with the company.

A tshogpa, Lobzang Thinley, said they were assured the trees would bear fruits in not less than three years and they did not plant any other crops.

Villagers say only a few trees have given fruit and it affected them since they could not make use of their land. They said they planted hazelnut hoping it would have good returns.

They also claim they should have used the land to plant cardamom and maize instead.

The issue was raised in the last Pemagatshel Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) and the dzongkhag was asked to resolve the issue.

Zobel gup, Pema Dorji informed DT members that while some plants have grown tall some remain small. He said the villagers did everything to take care of the plants.

He asked if there would be any compensation, as the trees did not bear fruits as per the agreement. “Should people now cut the trees?”

Khar gup, Ngajay Dorji said such incidents would affect the annual performance agreement of the gewog. He also pointed out that the farmers feel that the company has cheated them.

However, following the complaint, the company’s officials visited the field and shared that the main reasons for the trees not bearing fruit are the young age of the trees and a shortage of compatible pollen and poor management that slowed growth and extended time to maturity.

The Hazelnut company’s executive assistant for field operations, Sonam Rabten, through an email interview said none of the trees have reached seven years of age as claimed by the villagers instead only 12.8 percent had reached five years of age.

Sonam Rabten said animals damaged the trees and if trampled, it could hamper a year’s worth of growth.

He also said the trees were not consistently given care among many other reasons.

“Hazelnut trees have both male and female flowers on the same tree but they can’t self pollinate. Earlier distribution was made without pollinisers but this was explained to farmers and the shortfall was met.”

He added they are aware of the technical issues and have already taken steps to address them. “A total of 298,295 of production trees and 51,599 polliniser trees were distributed earlier.”

Sonam Rabten said to assist the pollination in the long run over 700,000 polliniser trees are in the nursery, which would be distributed to the farmers and that would solve the shortfalls in all the existing orchards.

The pollen is imported from Georgia extracted from 2,600kg of catkins. Pollination is expected to catch up in the next few years.

“There was lack of communication with the villagers on harvests and revised expectations, which we should rectify. The first nuts would be observed in three years, sizeable crop at five years and full production in seven years.”

The company also plans to improve training and communication with farmers to improve management, offer fencing support schemes, and water shortage or irrigation assistance.

“The same issue exists across the country and not only in Pemagatshel and our assisted pollination program is active in nine dzongkhags this year,” Sonam Rabten said, adding they would need more cooperation from farmers to prioritise hazelnut orchard management that would lead to earlier harvests and rewards.

There are 298,295 hazelnut trees in 492 orchards in Pemagatshel.

Yangchen C Rinzin | Samdrupjongkhar