HazelNut saplings( Photo Courtesy Story Baar)

Mountain Hazelnut impacted by COVID-19 restrictions

COVID-19 and its restrictions impacted the Mountain Hazelnut (MH) venture this time around.

Lhaki Woezer, Communication Officer for MH said that the lockdown decision had coincided with the scheduled start of the hazelnut harvest.

Reportedly, it is a big event for the team as the entire year is awaited for that period to bear fruition for their works.

She said, “Hazelnuts are harvested from August to September and the timing of the first lockdown created significant problems as this year MH had ten drying units ready to be set up at collection centers across Bhutan for post-harvest drying.”

She added, “Many growers across the nation saw much more nutting in 2020 due to the increasing maturity of hazelnut orchards across the country, as well as higher quality and more consistent orchard care.”

However as per the report, most growers were not able to get to their orchards to harvest their nuts on a timely basis which led to the nuts to fall to wet orchard floor for an extended period and as a resultant, it either became food for passer-by animals or got affected by molds and pests due to the monsoon.

She added, “Community centers in communities could not be set up for timely on-site drying of nuts, thus despite increased nutting this year, the saleable harvest was considerably lower than it would have been without the necessary restrictions for mitigation of COVID risk.”

 Although the COVID-19 presented various challenges the MH group in its effort to leverage and innovate alternatives deployed small groups of staffs moving through Dzongkhags to collect the harvest from growers’ orchards instead of the planned collection centers setup.

The mobile collection was undertaken in line with the rules and regulations of the ‘new normal’ with face masks, frequent hand-washing and ensuring that all mobile collection unit staff practiced appropriate social distancing.

 The company said it sought to minimize travel costs for growers, while at the same time ensuring that they received timely payment for their harvest and had a stable market.

The Mountain Hazelnut (MH), has 700 staff, and around 11,000 hazelnut growing households and community groups.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic Mountain Hazelnuts also initiated the Kitchen Garden program in April 2020 and allocated a portion of MH land with access to water for staff that did not have garden space at their home to be self-sufficient with their own vegetables.

 Reportedly, during lockdown, the organization also had each manager call every staff member daily to check on their well-being and established a peer counseling hotline to provide psychological support to colleagues.

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