In a heated public debate during the National Assembly Elections on 9 November 2023, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT)’s candidate, Jigme Dorji, addressed the pressing issue of hazelnut production challenges in Mongar, pledging to rectify past mistakes if the party is re-elected. The issue of the trees nor fruiting and adequate prices not being given came up.
Jigme Dorji expressed concern over the flawed approach to major projects, and he said, “The start of the hazelnut project was done without any research or pilot project being conducted in the dzongkhag. Just because the expert was from an outside country, we had the habit of agreeing to what they had to say and going on with the project without any assessment. If DNT were to be re-elected, we will make sure to conduct pilot projects to assess the success rate of proposed projects across the country.”
Highlighting the plight of the people who invested time and resources in hazelnut cultivation, Jigme Dorji explained that the government’s failure to assess the situation during its governance had adversely impacted the citizens. He assured that, if re-elected, DNT would not initiate projects without proper research and pilot testing.
The debate moderator questioned the effectiveness of the government’s intervention, especially considering the challenges posed by COVID-19. Jigme Dorji responded, stating, “COVID-19 hampered most of the developmental work we were going to do. But now, to resolve the issue, we have a land development plan in our manifesto. We will consult with the people, and if they choose not to keep the trees, we will help them make the land cultivable.”
Addressing another concern about hazelnut farmers not receiving the promised prices, Jigme Dorji assured that if re-elected, DNT would rectify the situation by fixing the promised price. However, this commitment raised questions about the feasibility of the hazelnut project.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s candidate, Tobgay Tobgay, asked about the possibility of canceling the project and the associated challenges. Jigme Dorji responded, “If we were to be re-elected, we would conduct research to determine if the hazelnut project is a good fit for the country. We will work accordingly.”
Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP)’s candidate, Kinzang Wangchuk, expressed disappointment with the hazelnut project’s performance in the eastern part of the country, labeling it the biggest failure of the region’s representatives. He demanded accountability saying this showed the failure of the MPs of the five eastern Dzongkhags since the first government and questioned why the issue had not been resolved earlier. In response, Jigme Dorji stated, “We will conduct research, and after the findings, we will work accordingly. If the project is to survive, we will continue; if not, vice versa.”
As the election fervor continues, the fate of the hazelnut project hangs in the balance, with promises of comprehensive research and decisive actions shaping the discourse around this persistent agricultural challenge.