Six years ago, Dorji Phuntsho joined the bandwagon of farmers in the locality and planted hazelnut trees on his fallow land.

The 64-year-old farmer from Dungoen village in Radhi, Trashigang, said he was convinced that he would make a good income from the sale of hazelnuts. “I planned to repair my house with the money.”

Today, Dorji Phuntsho lives in his old traditional house. He had not earned anything from hazelnuts. The trees are yet to bear fruits.

He is not alone.

Residents of 18 households in Dungoen village planted hazelnut saplings on more than 100 acres of land. Mountain Hazelnuts (MH) distributed free saplings to the villagers, claiming it would boost people’s income.

Dorji Phuntsho said farmers are unhappy. “Without a single fruit on the tree, I feel we wasted our time and energy in nurturing the saplings.”

He said MH officials convinced people that the trees would bear fruits in between three to four years.  “All households took turns to clear the bushes and take care of the saplings.”

Another villager, Sherub Gyeltshen, said he planted more than 6,000 hazelnut trees in six acres of land.

“We wasted our land planting trees that didn’t bear fruits.”

He said even civil servants who own land in the village planted hazelnuts.

The villagers, however, are told not to lose hope.

MH officials have conducted grafting and villagers are told that the trees would bear fruits.

MH’s communication officer, Lhaki Woezer, said the trees could not bear fruits because of fewer number of male trees in the plantation. “Grafting programme would resolve the issue,” she said.

She said grafting is the fastest method to fill the gap in more mature orchards and by 2021, there will be a large commercial harvest. “Pollination adjustment has been experienced in other new hazelnut plantings in Australia, Chile, and Georgia. They succeeded using similar methods.”

She said that some patience and adjustments are always required as plants acclimatise.

Meanwhile, there are more than 2,000 acres of hazelnut orchards in Trashigang. Lumang gewog has the highest number of hazelnut trees followed by Kangpara and Khaling.

MH has started large-scale distribution of the saplings in 2013 after conducting trial plantations.

As of mid-2018, 1,457 farming households and community groups are growing hazelnuts with 909,685 trees distributed in Trashigang.

According to MH officials, they had good harvests from Lumang, Kangpara, Radhi, Shongphu, Kanglung, Samkhar, and Thrimshing and moderate harvests from Yangner.

Officials justify that hazelnut improves soil fertility and the roots stabilise topsoil, reduce erosion on hillsides, and build soil carbon.

They also said a pruned branch from orchards provides a valuable source of firewood, reducing pressures on natural forests. Officials said that an-acre orchard provides about a ton of firewood annually. “It also brings significant climate benefits as planting hazelnut trees sequester CO2 production,” an official said.

Officials also claim that MH has already had a considerable positive social impact by directly employing more than 800 people, many of whom are rural women without previous formal education or employment. “More than 1,200 people derive their livelihoods by providing support goods and services to MH,” an official said.

About 10,274 farming households across the country and community groups are engaged with MH.

Neten Dorji | Trashigang