Nepal farmers go for olive oil farming
WHEN Nepal’s first olive farm opened to produce extra-virgin oil from trees planted on the slopes of the Himalayas, the sceptics said it couldn’t be done.
But 17 years later Himalaya Plantations — the country’s only producer — expects to turn its first profit, marking an unlikely success which the company hopes may one day help boost agriculture in one of the world’s poorest nations.
“All the experts told us we were mad, that it would never work because we didn’t have the Mediterranean conditions,” said Hartmut Bauder, the company’s German founder.
Bauder, who grew up in southern France, spent 18 years working in Mumbai as a manager in the chemical industry before deciding aged 57 he wanted to pursue his dream — but it has not proved easy.
“When we were in Mumbai we always had to bring our olive oil from Europe. I was always asking why there was no Indian olive oil but there was none,” he said.
Bauder eventually discovered an Italian olive project in northern India and took its experts to carry out feasibility studies for an olive plantation in Nepal.
He searched for a year to find suitable land for Himalaya Plantations before choosing the idyllic Chitlang valley, an ancient settlement of the Kathmandu valley’s indigenous Newar people, southwest of the capital.
“It had to be 10-15 hectares (25-37 acres) maximum, not more than three hours from Kathmandu, not too far from roads, power and water, facing south and at an altitude of between 1,000 and 2,000 metres because olives need cold in winter,” he said.
Bauder, who has been married for 38 years to his Nepali partner, Promila, started with 10 hectares in two separate areas, which he named Tuscany and Vinci after famous Italian olive oil-growing areas.
The couple, who live with a Daschund and a herd of alpacas in Kathmandu, began planting in 1996, with 2,300 trees, initially budgeting for an outlay of 20 million rupees ($245,000).
Costs began to spiral, however, as the company fought a long battle with anthracnose, a common fungus that is the bane of farmers around the world.
“I had no idea about agriculture, horticulture or olives.
I thought that you plant a tree and it grows, you harvest and you make oil. We learned the hard way that it is not that easy,” he said.