The hazelnut is a very interesting crop and has a big international market which is booming (next time you are in the supermarket, check out the number of chocolates that have hazelnuts in them, and the sales of Nutella and other spreads etc.). Turkey produces around 75% of the world’s hazelnuts – but the orchards are old, not very well managed and productivity is declining.
Hazelnuts, kattus in Nepali, grow at altitudes between 1,600 and 3,000 metres above sea level in the Himalayas, and after the first three years, are relatively easy to manage. In those crucial first years, it is important to protect them from browsing by stray cattle and wild deer, and to irrigate them once a week during the dormant winter period between December and February. After that, it is relatively plain sailing as serious diseases, such as the eastern filbert blight that has affected orchards in Oregon state in the USA, are not present in south Asia. Although an indigenous variety of hazelnut exists in Nepal, there are no commercial orchards of either indigenous or higher yielding varieties.
Besides the economic reasons, hazelnuts are a tasty, healthy food product that is well-suited for growing in the Himalayas. They have many uses, from nut-spreads and chocolates to savory dishes and salads. These tree nuts are high in protein, healthy unsaturated fats (primarily oleic acid), thiamine, manganese, copper, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and antioxidants.
Hazelnut trees are thriving in Bhutan’s pristine conditions, and we are confident they will also thrive in the rural mid-hill areas of Nepal with the clean mountain waters, fresh air, and good soils, the great majority of which are undamaged by the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
The Mountain Hazelnuts Project in Bhutan
Through contacts I made when working for the Mountain Hazelnuts Project (MH) in Bhutan during 2016-2017, and a former Trustee who earlier worked in Nepal, arrangements were made with MH management to import 1,000 hazelnut saplings to Nepal in late 2016 to carry out trials in four different parts of Nepal, one of which was our Solukhumbu-Deusa AFRC site.
Mountain Hazelnuts Project is a private-public partnership, and the first MoU with the Government of Bhutan was signed in 2009. Since then, it has grown from a small business to the biggest employer in Bhutan (excluding the Government) with 800 staff employed and over 120 field staff stationed throughout the country in the 18 districts where hazelnuts are now planted and growing well. In addition, 1,200 people are engaged in support services related to MH operations, this including private trucking, local businesses, and construction companies.
A few key points about MH:
- Primary activities since 2011 have been: establishing the world’s largest hazelnut nurseries in 4 locations across the country, providing hazelnut seedlings to farmers, and delivering training and support for the thousands of participating farmers through the extensive team of monitoring and extension MH employees;
- To date, over 7 million trees have been distributed to more than 8,000 farming households with a registered hazelnut area of over 10,000 acres;
- First small harvests were collected in 2016 and 2017 from the trees planted in the early days in the east of Bhutan and the first of four planned processing factories is now up and running - the nuts are collected by MH and once harvests are significant, premium nuts will be exported to the main world markets.