By Phurpa Wangmo
As the world continues to grapple with the effects of climate change, more people and corporations are realizing the importance of planting trees. Mountain Hazelnuts is one such impact venture founded as Bhutan’s first 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in a public-private-community partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan, with the shared goal to address the key social, economic, and environmental challenges faced by the Kingdom’s rural mountain communities through the plantation of hazelnut trees in fallow agricultural land.
In 2023, the Company is focused on supporting 7,927 hazelnut growers across 4,250 acres of the highest quality hazelnut orchards in 19 out of Bhutan’s 20 Districts to optimize high-altitude orchards (above 2,400m) through grafting and inter-planting additional pollinizer varieties to improve nut production and moreover converting low-altitude orchards (below 2,400m) through grafting suitable low chill hour varieties, as part of a comprehensive climate-adaptation program, again to improve production.
Scion wood “banking” program where scion wood for low chill hour varieties and pollinizers are grafted into scion “banks” so that in future years scion requirements for the grafting program are sourced from within Bhutan.
The company has been carrying out a large-scale grafting programme since 2019 as part of its major orchard improvement program, where carefully selected varieties, including both production trees and pollinizers, are being grafted to increase flowering and pollination for better nut production. Grafting is a vegetative propagation technique that connects two severed plant segments together that includes scion of one variety with the rootstock of another to replace the original variety.
However, grafting is just the first step in the process. Proper maintenance and care are essential for the grafts to thrive and provide the intended benefits. Based on our 2022 grafts, good survival of grafts is largely attributed to good post-grafting care. If proper post-grafting care can be given, the graft survival rate of 80% can be easily achieved.
Dr. Sean Watson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) said, “The Company has left no stone unturned to advocate the importance of post grafting care. Technical videos have been circulated to grower wechat groups, grower advocacy teams have been moving around to provide guidance on how to undertake individual tree fencing and its benefits that ensures the successful growth of the pollinizer varieties required for nutting”.
He also said, “We have also devised ways to increase grower ownership and participation as it is key to the success of our programs. The company has been holding weekly lottery draws where growers whose orchards have been grafted simply have to complete individual tree fencing to be included. The prizes have been chosen to be helpful in hazelnut farming but also agriculture more generally, with watering cans, hose pipes, secateurs, pruning saws and a grass cutter as the grand prize. We are thankful for the hard work of the staff, the support from our grower partners and proud to say that we have about 400 orchards with individual tree fencing this year alone.”
“Individual tree fencing is an important part of post-grafting care. It provides essential protection from animals and other threats, while also helping to improve the microclimate for the graft and promote healthy growth. By investing in individual tree fencing, individuals and communities can help to ensure a brighter future for themselves as hazelnuts can generate income, provide long-term direct and indirect employment for Bhutanese, generate foreign exchange, be a key model of carbon negative brand Bhutan as well as attracting other FDIs in Bhutan and benefit our planet and its inhabitants”, added CEO.
Sangay from Radhi said, “She hopes that they would protect their hazelnuts from animals with the individual tree fencing and moreover is an effective way to protect newly grafted trees from wind and natural hazards”.
Individual tree fencing is an effective way to protect newly grafted trees from animals and other natural damage. In addition to protecting the tree, individual tree fencing if done with agronet has microclimate benefits, reducing wind damage, and moisture stress from direct sunlight on the graft whilst the graft is healing. Individual tree fencing is easy to install and can be made from a variety of materials, but instead of looking for fencing materials, the Company has made it much easier for growers by providing agronet free of cost to growers. In return growers provide the poles (mostly hazelnut pruning’s from the orchard) and labour to erect. The result is a win-win for growers and the company with improved grafting success and growth rates leading to faster increases in nut production.