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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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