The government has declared 2012 as Nepal Investment Year, but if the experience of Hartmut Bauder is anything to go by, there won't be too many foreigners wishing to invest in Nepal.
Bauder (pictured, above) was working for the German multinational, BASF in India where he married a Nepali and moved here in 1985. He retired to the country that captured his heart and set up Himalaya Plantations to propagate olive oil, which he felt is an ideal agro-industry for Nepal.
Many thought Bauder was crazy, and told him so. Still, he set up his plantation in Chitlang of Makwanpur and nurtured every sapling in his orchard until it reached maturity.
"This was kind of a wild idea, that we grow olives in Nepal," Bauder explained this week, sitting at his home in Thaiba. "There was no know how what so ever and we learnt the hard way that it's a very difficult business."
Bauder has met obstacles every step of the way but he has proven that Nepal is an ideal place to grow olives and produce high quality olive oil, the standard of which is praised even in Italy.
"Because the soil in Nepal is so poor, washed out and acidic there is a lot of land where olives could grow," he says. While olive oil consumption has increased in Nepal, Himalaya Plantations continues to be the only producer of Nepali olive oil, a fact which leaves Bauder dismayed.
"My intention was to show that it works, not knowing if I would ever get my money back," he says, "I was willing to run that risk. But if it worked I had hoped the government would say thank you and promote it among Nepali farmers. But nothing really happened."
Bauder's investment in Nepal's agriculture isn't restricted to olive oil. He introduced South American alpacas to show that Nepali livestock farmers could have additional income. Alpacas are well suited to Nepal's topography and terrain and they produce high quality wool known for its warmth. In Europe an alpaca coat can cost up to 1,000 Euros.
"It was another idea; like olives, we wanted to bring something positive to the country," says Bauder, "we thought Nepal is also high altitude, there is fantastic wool, it should work." But in the absence of an official push, alpaca farming has been slow to catch on.
Despite poor crops, persistent fungus and a war that threatened both his life and livelihood, Bauder has remained loyal to Nepal. Today, Bauder's biggest problem is not the fungus that has attacked his olive trees, but the visa officers who hassle him even though he has invested Rs 40 million in Nepal over the past two decades.
"My experience is that Nepal is not really friendly to foreign investors," Bauder says, "it's very difficult to get approvals, there is lots of unnecessary running around."
When asked if he believed Nepal Investment Year would rectify these problems, Bauder is skeptical: "I don't know how serious they are." With luck, Bauder will be pleasantly surprised by the tenacity with which the newly-constituted Nepal Investment Board pursues its cause, asking not what investors can do for Nepal but what they can do for investors.
Whatever the outcome, Bauder can enjoy the breathtaking view from his property with a sense of pride. His dedication not only proves his point, but also offers Nepali farmers new opportunities. The rest, it seems, is up to the people in power who one can only hope love Nepal as much as this German resident does.
Following guidelines set by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), Himalaya Plantations' olive oil is considered 'extra virgin', the best quality olive oil on the market with below 0.8 per cent free acidity or oleic acid per 100 grams. Himalaya Plantations' oil has been tested by an official panel of nine professionals from the IOOC who examine oils according to the quality of ingredients and chemical composition. They found the Nepali olive oil to be of "excellent quality".
Extra virgin in Nepal, IRENE PERONI in MAKWANPUR
Despite all odds, Himalayan Plantations sticks with olives
Andes to the Himalaya, ROMA ARYAL
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