By Amina Nazarli
Ferrero, the historic chocolate company owned by Italy’s richest family, is in talks with the government of Azerbaijan over the cultivation of hazelnuts in the country.
Azerbaijan’s Agriculture Minister Heydar Asadov has received Daniel Dellapacha, the coordinator for agricultural business at Ferrero, for talks, reads an article posted on global food industry news provider www.just-food.com.
The company is a major user of hazelnuts in products such as Ferrero Rocher, Nutella and Kinder Bueno. It already owns the world's largest hazelnut producer, Turkey's Oltan Group.
Turkey is by far the world's largest producer of hazelnuts with a market share of around 75 percent. Azerbaijan has a market share of only around 4 percent but has ambitions to grow.
The country plans to increase hazelnut production through a package of incentives that include state grants and preferential loans to hazelnut producers and the distribution of hazelnut seeds to farmers free of charge. The Association of Hazelnut Producers and Exporters was set up to ensure that these things are managed in a centralized manner, farmers are provided with help and their products are centrally purchased and exported.
In 2016, the country fetched the biggest profit of all agricultural products by hazelnuts, bringing the country $105 million in currency. The Azerbaijani hazelnuts are mainly exported to 25 countries including Italy – $40 million, Russia – $30 million and Germany – $24 million.
Azerbaijani hazelnuts are of very high quality and are highly valued in foreign markets. Back in 2012 Azerbaijan entered top ten countries with the largest production of hazelnuts, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The issue of developing the hazelnut production was recently mulled at the republican conference in Gakh region, where President Ilham Aliyev stressed that the development of this sector is of high priority for the state.
“We should expand the cultivated area in the near future and help the farmers,” he noted. “Hazelnut farmers are well aware that Azerbaijan holds one of the leading places in the world for hazelnut production. As a result of the measures to be taken now, we can reach the third place in the world.”
The main buyers of hazelnuts are chocolate factories, President Aliyev said, voicing the necessity of signing direct contracts, i.e. for intermediaries to play a small role.
“We should try to increase the assortment of hazelnuts because we sell it abroad in vacuum packing. Abroad, it is either used in factories or packaged. We should do package and sorting in Azerbaijan. Therefore, new equipment should be brought so that we could export finished products to world markets,” he said.
In the coming years the country plans to increase hazelnut gardens from the current 55,000 hectares to 80,000 hectares, as well as expand the geography of hazelnut production, which currently covers 13 regions of the country. The potential of the country is measured by hundreds of thousands of hectares.
Hazelnuts are produced in Baku, Absheron, Ganja-Gazakh, Sheki-Zagatala, Upper Karabakh, Lankaran, Gabala and other regions of the country.
Today, 9,000 people are engaged in hazelnut farming. After the new orchards are set up, their number will reach about 20,000.
Amina Nazarli is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @amina_nazarli
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