The company is one of the largest private sector companies working for the last 10 years
The Mountain Hazelnuts sent around 300 employees on unpaid leave for a duration of three months from June 1 to August 31 this year as a cost cutting measure.
Mountain Hazelnuts is one of the latest companies in Bhutan to take a hit from the COVID-19 crisis. The company is one of the largest private sector companies working with more than 11,000 smallholder farming communities to grow hazelnuts in 19 Dzongkhags for the last 10 years.
According to the Mountain Hazelnuts office, the company is still employing 150 employees which accounts to a third of staff on rotation at any given time during this period. Taking these steps enables Mountain Hazelnuts to move to a more sustainable position for long term success. No employees have been laid off despite the capital crunch the company is going through.
The Director of field operations and research and development of Mountain Hazelnuts, Dr Tshering Dorji said that although the number of field staff has been reduced to one third in this three-month period, the company is committed to providing necessary technical services to its growers in a timely manner.
“Therefore, our farmers should not worry. We are not closing our company but we are preparing for the long term sustainability of the company,” he said.
He also said that all operational heads of the central, east and west have been retained as key operational staff.
He added that the delivery of the post grafting care, nut inventory and preparing for harvest grower services will be the top priority of the company during this three-month period.
He said that because of the 2019 and 2020 grafting and 2021 manual pollination programs, they anticipate a bigger harvest this year. The company plans to buy all harvested nuts based on the existing price.
According to the Mountain Hazelnuts, they are hopeful that it would be able to secure funds before exhausting its resources, but due to the ongoing COVID restrictions on foreign entry, investor’s due diligence visits have not been possible.
“The COVID pandemic has brought unprecedented hardship to the company, as it has to many other companies in Bhutan,” states the company.
“Most importantly, Mountain Hazelnuts was not able to collect most of last year’s harvest due to a nationwide lockdown. As a result, the company missed some key investor funding milestones. Every aspect of operations has been affected by the pandemic, from land registration, to bringing in tissue culture, to procuring materials from India, to distributing trees, and to even performing an audit,” states the company.
Mountain Hazelnuts has also informed the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) as well as the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR).
“Both partners understand the circumstances around the company’s decision, and have been supportive and flexible in working with our senior management team to carve out a path forward,” states the company.
The company is also in the process of informing other key stakeholders, including the growers.
The office mentioned that in the short term, Mountain Hazelnuts is doing everything that they can to support its staff who have been put on unpaid leave, assisting staff who wish to explore other job opportunities with recommendation letters and working closely with landlords and banks, to explore the possibility of rent reductions for this three-month period, and easing loan repayments respectively.
Mountain Hazelnuts has also established an internal Hazay Emergency Fund. This is a fund of the “last resort”, under which financial assistance can be granted to those in extreme financial hardship.
The company has a total of around 450 employees.
Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu