“We had never experienced anything like this before,” says Ngawang Choden, a hazelnut farmer from Bhutan. “They were giving trees for free, providing training on how to plant…from the beginning, I knew it was going to be a good opportunity for my family.”
Choden is referring to Mountain Hazelnuts, Bhutan’s first 100% foreign direct investment enterprise ushering the country into the strong international hazelnut market by capitalizing on Bhutan’s ideal growing conditions for hazelnut trees. Rather than chasing profits, though, Mountain Hazelnuts creates shared value for its stakeholders—rural farmers, village communities, and financial investors—by taking a business approach that prioritizes local household income generation, employment, community development, cultural preservation, local ecosystems, and global climate change.
In 2012, blue moon fund made a direct investment in Mountain Hazelnuts as part of its commitment to holistic giving—aligning the foundation’s investment and grant portfolio missions for maximum social and economic impact. Since the majority of people in Bhutan still derive their livelihood from the land, Mountain Hazelnuts presents an opportunity to both strengthen economic development through exports and preserve the country’s agricultural heritage.
After planting her first crop in 2011, Choden has one of the most impressive hazelnut fields in Bhutan. She also advocates for hazelnut farming to other local farmers. “Some of them are skeptical since it has never been done. But I just show them my field and they become interested,” she says.
Mountain Hazelnuts directly employs more than 500 Bhutanese, many of who are like Choden—rural women without formal education or previous employment. More than 1,200 people in nearby communities also derive their livelihoods by providing supporting goods and services to Mountain Hazelnuts. The company has planted 10 million hazelnut trees exclusively on degraded or fallow land, which actively improves soil fertility, reduces hillside erosion, creates sustainable fuel wood and sequesters CO2 emissions.
For Choden, the most exciting part of hazelnut farming is the opportunity to save money for her children’s education. “My mother often complained, ‘You’re always spending so much time with those hazelnuts.’ And I would tell her, ‘This is for the future, Ama. This is for my children.’”
Addressing social and economic causes and effects
—Tenzin Choden, Mountain Hazelnuts
“With hazelnuts, our farmers can be more self-sufficient. We can also help prevent deforestation and soil erosion. It’s also helping our jobless graduates get different experiences – and brings us back to the rural villages."