Nepali Times
Offering an olive branch


Hartmut Bauder had two choices when he returned to Nepal in 1995: open a pharmaceutical company or start an olive farm. Though he had worked as managing director in a pharmaceutical company in India for 18 years, he chose to start an olive grove.

After a long and hard struggle, the first olive farm in Nepal was established under the registration of Himalayan Plantations (HP). Land with suitable climate and soil had to be found, it had to be near a road. Finally, Bauder settled on Chitlang.

The olive is a native to Asia Minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago. It is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world, being grown even before written language was invented. The olive has a lot of associations from its leaf being the official symbol of peace to it being the sign of land in the story of Noah's ark in the Bible.

Olive is also one of the healthiest oils around. The people of the Mediterranean who use only this oil have been found to have fewer cardio-vascular and carcinogenic ailments and live longer than the rest of the world.

A childhood in southern France instilled in Bauder a lifelong love for all things Mediterranean. When the opportunity to own an olive farm came, he grabbed it.

A scenic four-hour drive away from the capital, nestled in the midst of yellow mustard fields, the blue-green olive trees thrived. When he started in 1995 Bauder tells us, " It was just an experiment, I wanted to prove that it could be done." Now the trees have grown and he has proved his point: the farm yielded 70 litres of olive oil last year and this year he expects the yield to triple.

Bauder wants to teach his adopted country to love the olive. He says, "You don't plant olive trees for yourself but for the sons of your sons.

I want Nepali farmers to each have a couple of trees. This way, they can produce their own oil for cooking and eating and it is healthier. The process of extracting oil from olives is as simple as making orange juice. This makes it even more feasible."

Nepal has ideal conditions for olive trees, and there are indigenous wild olives here. The climate needs to be semi-arid and the soil rich but not water retentive. Marginalised lands not used for other crops are perfect for olive trees. Bauder took advantage of this and bought 10 hectares in Chitlang.

Olive oil available in the Kathmandu market is often adulterated because it is mixed with cheaper hazelnut oil. The chemical components of both oils are relatively the same and it is almost impossible to detect the difference in a chemical analysis.

Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil in the world right now. Tunisia and Morocco are upcoming producers but they haven't been able to market the oil effectively. Nepali olive oil was sent for testing in Australia, Italy and Germany last year to get a feel of the standard of olive oil being produced here. The results were very encouraging: olive oil from Nepal was considered 'extra-virgin', having the highest quality.

This year Bauder plans to send the oil for official registration and certification to ensure acceptability in both national and international markets. As his dream slowly comes to life, Nepali investors waiting on the fence can cash in on the opportunity. If it does not make Nepal a viable olive oil producer, it would at least make it self-sufficient.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)