FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Basic facts

  • Total trees being planted: 10 million trees
  • Total acreage being planted: up to 25,000 acres
  • Total annual production at maturity: 40,000 metric tons (to put that in perspective, Turkey, the world’s largest producer with 70+% of global volume, normally produces more than 15 times this amount)
 

HAZELNUTS IN BHUTAN

Agro-climatically-speaking, Bhutan’s mid-elevation areas (approximately 1,600-3,000 meters) have the right conditions for hazelnuts. Bhutan has consistent annual monsoon rains, providing adequate water rainfall for tree growth, and cool winters, which induce trees into dormancy, allowing them to harden. Hazelnuts are indigenous to the Himalayan region, although they have never been commercially cultivated. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests recognized the potential of hazelnuts in the 1990s and developed hazelnut trial orchards for nearly two decades, demonstrating that Bhutan has suitable conditions for hazelnut production.


What is the appearance of a hazelnut tree?

It is a bushy, multi-stemmed deciduous tree with a dense network of wide-spreading roots.

 

What is tissue culture, and how are hazelnuts produced from it?

Hazelnut tissue culture is the replication and growth of plant tissue in a nutrient medium under sterile conditions. The process produces many tiny plants, each identical to the original, making tissue culture an ideal technique for reproducing plants with the most desirable traits. Hazelnut tissue culture is complex; the Mountain Hazelnuts team has developed considerable expertise in this area. The tissue culture micro-propagation is conducted under Company oversight in an international state of the art lab, from which the plantlets are transported to the Lingmethang nursery to grow into larger saplings.

 

What are hazelnuts used for?

Hazelnuts are eaten plain as a snack food, as well as commonly used in praline, chocolate candies, baking, and nut-spreads. There are savory uses for hazelnuts as well.

 

What is the nutritional value of hazelnuts?

Hazelnuts are high in protein, healthy unsaturated fats (primarily oleic acid), thiamine, manganese, copper, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and antioxidants. Hazelnuts have the highest levels of folate and proanthocyanidin among tree nuts.

 

What land is suitable for hazelnuts?

While local conditions may vary, generally, land between 1,600-3,000 meters is suitable. Hazelnuts prefer slightly acidic, well-drained soils. Excessively sandy or marshy soils should be avoided. Mountain Hazelnuts only works with farmers who plant on fallow, degraded land that is categorized in Bhutan as “dry land”, as opposed to rice paddy, known as “wetland.” For farmers or community organizations without land, hazelnuts may be planted on government land through special lease arrangements, which require confirming that cultivation would generate no negative environmental effects. To date, studies show that planting hazelnuts leads to many positive environmental impacts.

 

PROJECT MODEL

How big is the market for hazelnuts, and who are the main buyers?

The market for hazelnuts is one of the larger global markets for tree-nut crops. European buyers currently represent 85% of the market.

 

Why is hazelnut production a major economic opportunity for Bhutan?

Bhutan possesses the right agro-climatic conditions to produce hazelnuts. Demand for hazelnuts is growing, and it is a high-value crop.

 

What is the Public-Private-Community Partnership between Mountain Hazelnuts and the Royal Government of Bhutan?

This partnership is based on a 30-year Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Bhutan and Mountain Hazelnuts, structured with the aim of creating sustainable income for farmers, positive environmental effects, foreign currency earnings for the Government, and a profitable, sustainable private company. This partnership is based on mutual dependence; each partner must benefit for the project to continue. If the farmers do not prosper, Mountain Hazelnuts will not succeed. If Mountain Hazelnuts does not earn a profit, the Hazelnut Project will not continue.

 

What does it mean that Mountain Hazelnuts is a triple-bottom-line company?

A triple-bottom-line company is one that provides positive social and environmental impacts for the communities where it operates while being financially self-sustainable. For Mountain Hazelnuts, the community is Bhutan, its farmers, and landscapes. As a private company, Mountain Hazelnuts must make a profit while fulfilling its social and environmental missions.

 

Why does Mountain Hazelnuts give trees to farmers free of cost?

The hazelnut trees are valuable; most farmers could not afford to purchase the trees and invest in the labor and other inputs to create hazelnut orchards. Thus, a long-term collaboration model was created to support farmers, which recognizes the contributions they make to hazelnut production. Given the cost of trees, paying for them upfront would represent a potential financial burden to farmers.

 

What is a floor price and how does it benefit hazelnut farmers?

The farmers are guaranteed a floor price that will enable them to plan ahead, knowing that they have a secure market and attractive profit margin. Studies show that at this floor price, farmers have competitive returns on their investment in terms of labor and inputs compared to other tree crops that could be grown in their altitude zone (such as apples, walnuts, or potatoes).

 

How much is the total investment in the project?

Mountain Hazelnuts is investing a total of $30 million. It has already built the world's largest hazelnut nurseries in Lingmethang and Ngatshang and is building its processing factory in Eastern Bhutan, adding value in-country.

 

IMPACT

What are the benefits to Bhutan of the Hazelnut Project?

At full production, hazelnuts will become a major source of foreign currency earnings. This will help considerably with Bhutan's balance of payments.

 

What is GNH, and how does the Mountain Hazelnut project fit into this concept?

GNH stands for Gross National Happiness, a system for measuring the well-being of a population. It was created by His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and has helped the country to thoughtfully plan its future, based on the four pillars of:

  • Sustainable development
  • Preservation and promotion of cultural values
  • Conservation of the natural environment
  • Establishment of good governance

The Mountain Hazelnuts model actively works to contribute to these areas.

 

How many hazelnut orchards will be engaged in full production?

Up to 15,000 orchards will be planted in Bhutan, owned by smallholder farmer households, monasteries, nunneries, community organizations, and local entrepreneurs.

  

What is the impact on employment?

Mountain Hazelnuts currently has over 800 people on its payroll. In addition, an estimated 1,200 people earn their income by providing goods and services to the Company. At full capacity, these numbers will double.

  

What training and support does Mountain Hazelnuts provide to employees and farmers?

Capacity building and professional development are priorities for Mountain Hazelnuts, both internally and in the communities where the Company are active. In total, more than 8,000 people have received training from Mountain Hazelnuts, including employees, farmers, and government officials. More than 300 staff have completed in-house training, a network of over 150 field staff receive regular classroom and field training, and staff are also sent for overseas training. For farmers, the Monitoring and Regional Extension teams provide formal and informal training regarding hazelnut production, from field layout and planting through plant care and pest control, to harvest and post-harvest processing.

 

How does planting hazelnut orchards improve natural ecosystems?

Planting hazelnut trees improves the fertility and quality of topsoil in orchards. The shallow root structure of hazelnut trees is ideal for reducing erosion on Bhutan's steep slopes where topsoil layers are thin. By reducing erosion, hazelnut trees reduce sediment loading in nearby streams and rivers.

What are the greenhouse gas benefits of planting hazelnut trees?

10 million hazelnut trees will sequester 1.5 million tons of CO2 and add 25,000 acres of forest cover, helping to counter climate change.

 

Can hazelnuts be grown organically?

Yes, hazelnuts can be grown organically and the Company advises farmers on specific organic growing methods. Hazelnuts are a relatively vigorous and “wild” crop and requires few inputs.

 

Are hazelnuts planted on prime agricultural land or are trees cut down to make way for orchards?

Absolutely not. Mountain Hazelnuts inspects every site to consider the ecological impact before an orchard is designed. No hazelnuts are planted on land that is cultivated or designated as “wetland” (rice paddy). Approval is only given for those sites that meet the agreed principles. In the event there is a large tree in a prospective orchard, the hazelnuts are planted around the tree.

 

Does planting hazelnuts affect food security?

Since hazelnuts are only being planted on fallow land, not land currently used to produce food or other crops, hazelnut farming will not reduce the total amount of food produced in Bhutan. Moreover, through providing farmers with additional income, the Hazelnut Project will help stabilize their access to food through increasing farmer buying power.

 

FOR FARMERS

What are the benefits of growing hazelnuts, compared to other crops like apples or oranges?

Compared to other crops that can be grown between 1,600-3,000 meters (such as apples or potatoes), hazelnuts have a better economic rate of return. If farmers factor in the value of their labor and cost of inputs/transportation when comparing crops, hazelnuts come out ahead as they require considerably fewer inputs and less labor to manage. In addition, the guaranteed market and floor price provided by Mountain Hazelnuts removes market risk from this calculation. Prices for other crops fluctuate markedly from year to year and in some years, farmers have no net profit.

 

How long does it take a hazelnut tree to bear nuts?  

The first harvests Mountain Hazelnuts is expecting average yields in full production of more than 4 kg per treef a few nuts typically take place after 3-5 years.

 

How many kg per tree can we expect when the orchard is mature?

Mountain Hazelnuts is expecting average yields in full production of more than 4 kg per tree.

 

What time of year is the harvest?

Harvesting occurs in August to early September, depending on altitude and varieties. Lower altitudes will harvest earlier.

 

How long will a hazelnut orchard stay productive?

Established orchards typically stay productive for more than 50 years.

 

How much labor does it take to plant, care for, and harvest trees?

Hazelnuts require about 30 man days an acre to plant, 12-17 man days an acre per year to care for the trees, 20 man days a year to harvest, and 5 man days for post-harvesting.

 

How many trees per acre can I plant?

Most farmers can plant around 450 trees per acre, depending on orchard soils, slope, and existing trees on the site.

 

What significant pests and diseases affect hazelnut trees worldwide?

The only serious pest of hazelnut worldwide is Eastern Filbert Blight, which is restricted to certain parts of the USA. It has not spread to other hazelnut growing regions. Stink bugs, nut weevils, and various leaf eating larvae can lower yields in some seasons when climatic conditions are favorable, but are manageable. Stem borers are a manageable problem worldwide for all fruit trees.

 

What is the survival rate of planted trees?

Net survival for field-planted trees is over 90%, but it should be possible for most farmers to achieve over 95%, if they follow the right protocols. Some areas perform better than others as there is some regional variation.

 

What does the Monitoring team do, and how often will they come to my orchard?

Mountain Hazelnuts’ Monitoring team of more than 150 people live and work in the hazelnut growing areas. The Monitors work alongside farmers and make regular visits to every field, using an Android-based technology system to report field conditions to the Company’s management.

 

What does the Extension team do, and how often will they come to my orchard?

Mountain Hazelnuts’ Extension team provides expert advice and support to farmers who face difficult growing conditions, investigate and implement advanced pest and animal control measures, and evaluate the social and environmental benefit of orchards to growers and local communities growing hazelnuts.

 

How can I keep wild animals out of my fields? Does Mountain Hazelnuts provide any help for fencing my orchard?

Mountain Hazelnuts provides support through procuring electric fencing materials at cost, then delivering materials free of transportation cost to the nearest village road head, and providing support in installation and maintenance.

 

What are the benefits of fencing my orchard?

Where livestock freely graze or wild animals are prevalent, fencing is necessary to protect the hazelnut trees. If farmers cannot afford barbed wire or electric fencing, they should individually fence using locally available materials.

 

Do I need to irrigate my hazelnut trees?

During establishment of the trees, hazelnut trees, especially those on south-facing slopes, are irrigated at least once a month with two litres of water per tree. Once established (after 3-4 years), hazelnuts should not require supplemental irrigation to survive, but yields will improve if they have some minimal irrigation during the dry season, especially during the period of flowering and pollination.