Bhutan: The Rise of the Hazelnut

Jul 2016
Bhutan , July, 25 2016 - Mountain Hazelnuts, a social enterprise focused on improving lives in Bhutan through the cultivation of hazelnuts, has joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA) with a commitment to integrate 7,500 women-headed smallholder farming families into its value chain.

In the process, the company will train at least 4,000 women in financial literacy, help at least 75 percent of them to open bank accounts, and directly employ 500 Bhutanese women.

The BCtA is a global initiative that aims to support private sector efforts to fight poverty through its core business.  It is supported by several international organizations and hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

A small landlocked country in the Himalayas, Bhutan’s mountain households have few opportunities to generate cash income.  The country’s smallholder farmers mainly cultivate maize, rice, and vegetables for their own subsistence.  Many farming households are headed by women – few of whom have a formal education.

Although indigenous to Bhutan, hazelnuts have neither been grown commercially nor consumed in the country.  However, there is a huge market potential for their overseas export, especially given the nuts’ nutritional properties.  The growing international demand for hazelnut-based spreads has made these nuts the world’s second most valuable tree-nut crop after almonds.

As Bhutan’s first 100% foreign-owned company and largest private sector employer, Mountain Hazelnuts’ inclusive business model is focused on a triple bottom line: reducing poverty among farmers, which also reduces migration to urban areas, restoring deforested mountain areas, and ensuring financial returns for impact investors.  The company is achieving this by incorporating over 15,000 farming families and community organizations into its hazelnut value chain.  Together they are planting over 10 million trees. Mountain Hazelnuts is already more than half way to these goals.

Hazelnut plants are first cultivated in the company’s nursery, then distributed as young trees to smallholder growers who manage their orchards with technical support and training from Mountain Orchards’ field support team.  These growers then sell the nuts to Mountain Orchards for processing and export at a guaranteed fair price.

According to Daniel Spitzer, Mountain Hazelnuts’ Chief Executive Officer, “Hazelnuts are well-suited to Bhutan’s soil and climate – they are the ideal crop for this mountainous region.  By seizing a critical market opportunity to develop women smallholder farmers’ livelihoods, we aim to facilitate community development and environmental sustainability while mitigating the impacts of climate change.  These impacts are what Mountain Hazelnuts is all about.”

Women play a crucial role in strengthening Bhutan’s hazelnut value chain. Harvesting hazelnuts is well suited to women since it does not require heavy manual labor. For Mountain Hazelnuts, integrating women into the value chain has improved orchard management, resulting in higher yields and greater returns for its investors. The company pledges to support 7,500 households headed by women with training in cultivating hazelnut and other crops, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy.  Of the 4,000 women slated to receive literacy training, the company has committed to assist at least 3,000 with opening bank accounts.

Just as critical to this inclusive model is the company’s direct employment of women, which has reduced employee turnover, provided greater workforce stability, and improved health and nutrition in the communities where it operates. All its women employees participate in Mountain Hazelnuts’ Women’s Health Educational Program, which includes gender-awareness training, health check-ups, and health education.

In addition, Mountain Hazelnuts expects that at least 20 women-led private enterprises will develop around the hazelnut value chain, including transport services, construction companies, and service providers to hazelnut farmers (e.g., drying and de-husking services). 

“Supporting women farmers does more than strengthen their livelihoods”, said Paula Pelaez, Programme Manager of the BCtA. “Since many women are also caregivers, it can also benefit entire families and communities. This can result in better health, nutrition and education for thousands of children, who are the country’s future. We at the Business Call to Action commend Mountain Hazelnuts’ efforts to build a more sustainable and inclusive agricultural sector in Bhutan.”

In order to maximize its effectiveness, the company is partnering with international experts to build a holistic framework for impact measurement. This includes a comprehensive extension and monitoring program for all farmers along with biannual socio-economic surveys. Within ten years, it expects hazelnuts to become Bhutan’s second most valuable export after hydropower.

Source : 3BL MEDIA

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