`Olive Oil from the Top of the World

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Olive Oil from the Top of the World

Nov. 9, 2010
Christian Brazil Bautista

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For Hart­mut Bauder, the sec­ond part of life has been a fruit­ful time. Mr. Bauder, a Ger­man entre­pre­neur who in a pre­vi­ous life worked as a man­ager for chem­i­cal com­pany BASF, set­tled in Nepal after retire­ment to put up the coun­try’s first olive plan­ta­tion.

Mr. Bauder, who has a Nepalese wife, devel­oped a love affair with olives early on in life. The set­ting for the romance was Provence in South­ern France, where Mr. Bauder grew up and fell in love with all things Mediter­ranean. When he retired at age 57, he looked to form a busi­ness that he could grow with his wife.

An Ital­ian olive project on the foothills of the Himalayas in north­ern India served as the tem­plate for Mr. Baud­er’s ven­ture. The project, which was launched in Himachal Pradesh, became sub­ject to close scrutiny from Mr. Bauder. He reg­u­larly vis­ited the site and con­sulted with the pro­jec­t’s res­i­dent experts.

With the help of Nepalese friends, Mr. Bauder invested NRs 17 mil­lion (about $240,000) to form Himalaya Plan­ta­tions in 1994. For most of its exis­tence, profit has eluded the com­pany, caus­ing the ven­ture to con­tinue adding equity. Cur­rently, Mr. Bauder holds 80% of the com­pa­ny’s NRs 32 mil­lion ($450,000) equity. Himalaya Plan­ta­tions just had its first prof­itable year.

Olives, like wine, depend on the ter­roir” or the growth fac­tors of its loca­tion. This includes the soil, water, weather, tem­per­a­ture, clean air and alti­tude of the area where the fruits are grow­ing. Mr. Bauder said that olive pro­duc­tion in Nepal is unique because the cli­mate is the exact oppo­site of Europe. The main dif­fer­ences are the lat­i­tude at which we grow olives, the alti­tude and the cli­mate. Europe has sun in sum­mer and rains in win­ter, in our area it is the reverse,” Mr. Bauder said.

Except for three months of mon­soon weather, Nepal has abun­dant sun­shine for most of the year. Tem­per­a­tures range from ‑2 degrees Cel­sius in Jan­u­ary to 35 degrees Cel­sius dur­ing the sum­mer months.

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Mr. Bauder chose Chit­lang Val­ley as the home for Himalaya Plan­ta­tions. Chit­lang Val­ley, which is located three hours south of Kath­mandu, is an idyl­lic loca­tion that is exclu­sively agri­cul­tural in spite of its prox­im­ity to the Nepalese cap­i­tal. The com­pany has an eight hectare-plan­ta­tion that con­tains 2,000 trees.

When start­ing to look for an ideal place, we set a few cri­te­ria: not more than three hours dri­ving dis­tance from Kath­mandu, it must have an alti­tude up to 2000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level in order to get enough chill in win­ter, ter­races fac­ing south for max­i­mum sun­shine and avail­abil­ity of roads and elec­tric­ity,” Mr. Bauder said.

Oddly, Mr. Bauder said that he was never sure if Himalaya Plan­ta­tions would turn a profit. We def­i­nitely did not know whether we would see part of our money come back,” he said. That did­n’t stop him from doing all he can to make Himalaya Plan­ta­tions a viable busi­ness. Together with friends from Italy, he checked local con­di­tions to see if it was indeed pos­si­ble to grow olives in Nepal. Skep­tics insisted that a Mediter­ranean cli­mate is required for grow­ing olives. Mr. Bauder saw things dif­fer­ently, due to knowl­edge that olives can grow in poor soil.

To start with, Mr. Bauder bought ten hectares of land in two sep­a­rate areas in Chit­lang Val­ley, which he later named Tus­cany and Vinci after Ital­ian towns famous for olive oil cui­sine.

Himalaya Plan­ta­tions has had a long strug­gle with anthrac­nose, a com­mon fun­gus that is the bane of olive farm­ers around the world. The dis­ease, which has no cure, has long been a prob­lem for olive farm­ers in South Amer­ica, Aus­tralia and South Africa. The fun­gus had forced the com­pany to har­vest ahead of time, thereby lim­it­ing olive oil pro­duc­tion.

After years of not turn­ing a profit due to the dis­ease, Mr. Bauder con­sid­ered giv­ing up on Himalaya Plan­ta­tions. Things changed when Mr. Bauder met Gideon Peleg, an Israeli expert who works as the tech­ni­cal direc­tor of the olive project in Rajasthan in North­ern India. “(He) told us that he does not see any rea­son why we should not suc­ceed in Nepal,” Mr. Bauder said.

Himalaya Plan­ta­tions entered into a three-year con­tract with Peleg. Since he was hired, Peleg intro­duced ten­siome­ter-con­trolled indi­vid­ual drip irri­ga­tion and changed the com­pa­ny’s tech­niques for fer­til­iz­ers and prun­ing. The changes have yielded a har­vest of eleven tons of olives from 1,100 trees this year, giv­ing the com­pany its first prof­itable year.

Mr. Bauder even­tu­ally wants to influ­ence a change in food cul­ture in Nepal. Low qual­ity Span­ish oil is pop­u­lar in the coun­try, with extra vir­gin olive oil still a rare lux­ury. Olive oil, which offers a num­ber of health ben­e­fits can improve the health of poor peo­ple even in small amounts.

Nei­ther in India nor in Nepal (was) good olive oilavail­able,” said Mr. Bauder. Our inten­tion was to bring this cul­ture to Nepal and make it avail­able to local farm­ers.”

The sec­ond part of Mr. Baud­er’s life is in for a har­vest. This time, it seems it would be a prof­itable one.

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