BANKGKOK: When her husband suddenly died, Nakimo set up a small shop in Bhutan’s southern Chukha district to provide for her family of seven, then began growing hazelnut trees, which not only boosted her income, but also helped preserve the soil on her land.
Nakimo benefited from a program by social enterprise Mountain Hazelnuts that aims to find sustainable uses for fallow land and prevent soil erosion — an increasing challenge for small-scale farmers in the Himalayan nation.
“The hazelnut trees do not require too much work, so my family and I can manage them easily,” said Nakimo, 65, who goes by one name.
“With the additional income from hazelnuts, I’ve even been able to start saving for my grandchildren, which makes me happy, as I’m helping to secure their futures,” said Nakimo, who grows about 200 trees on part of her plot of 1.3 acres.
Overgrazing, deforestation, mining, infrastructure building and higher temperatures are the main causes of soil erosion and land degradation in the mountainous country, but the problem is global.
Worldwide, more than half of agricultural land is degraded, with the equivalent of one soccer field lost, due to erosion every five seconds, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Erosion could reduce crop yields by up to half by 2050, and also increases the risk of landslides and floods, according to the FAO. More than 90 percent of the Earth’s agricultural soils are at risk of degradation within the next 30 years.
In Bhutan, Mountain Hazelnuts works primarily with women and poor farmers in the country’s underdeveloped East, providing free saplings and technical assistance, including a traceability system that assesses land quality and monitors soil health.
“We only plant on land that is fallow and degraded, and therefore not suitable for other crops,” said Teresa Law, co-founder of the company.
“Hazelnut trees can be planted on mountain slopes where other crops are unable to thrive — this stabilizes the slopes and improves watersheds,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.