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Youth entrepreneurs plan to produce avocado tea and flour

Tea lovers in the country will soon have an additional option to choose from with a new avocado tea all set to hit the market in early 2019.

The avocado might not be a popular fruit in the country today but a group of three students from the Royal Thimphu College (RTC) have explored the benefits and growing demand for the exotic fruit.

The trio with a business idea to manufacture and sell value-added avocado products bagged the silver medal at the annual Mekong Business Challenge final round held in Myanmar on March 11.

Under the name – Gladden Guli – the team will produce tea using avocado seeds and flour from avocado pulp, which can be used in cakes, cookies, salad dressings, and noodles, among others.

While a handful of avocado plantations exist in central Bhutan, commercial farming of the fruit started in 2012. For many, a fruit that comes for around Nu 400 per kilogramme might not be a priority on their shopping list. But an increasing number of people have developed a taste for the fruit.

Generally, the fruit is consumed for its buttery, subtle yet complex pulp. However, the Gladden Guli team is also exploring the seed for  commercial purposes.

The team claimed that their produce – avocado flour (green and red) and avocado seed tea – will be produced naturally without the use of any kinds of preservatives.

To maintain the moisture content and nutrients of the fruit, the team will be using state of the art technology to dry and ground the fruit. For this the team will use a freeze drying machine.

The idea to explore the fruit was generated during a marketing class in RTC some months ago. One of the participants, Mon Maya Chhetri, who grew up in the neighbourhood where the fruit was grown in plentiful saw a business opportunity there.

Mon Maya’s late father who was into avocado cultivation encouraged her to carry on her father’s interest. “It is a dream come true for me. The fruit that I grew up with has taken me places,” said the 23-year-old. “The experience has taught me a lot about teamwork and entrepreneurship.”

Given the expensive cost of the fruit, the team did face several financial challenges during their entrepreneurial venture. More than half of the seed money that was given to the team to start their business proposal was invested in buying the fruits.

Lack of adequate technology and specialists also hindered the group in their initial journey. However, with support from agencies like the National Post Harvest Centre in Paro and the faculty members from the college helped the team enter the final round of the Mekong competition.

RTC lecturer, Madhav Verma, who was one of the advisors for the team said that with all the challenges and pressure the team was confident with their business proposal. “It’s been a learning experience for all of us in the team and the struggles that we went through, was worth it at the end.”

He said that the talent Bhutanese students have in the field of entrepreneurship is commendable. “Our students won in a competition where international participants with much more experience competed.”

The Gladden Guli team also surveyed over 100 potential consumers in the country and received positive responses on their products. Some 15 farmers who grow the fruit commercially have also committed to the team to supply them with avocados.

Another advisor for the team, Kabita Chhetri, said that once the students graduate, they will be involved in the cultivation of the fruits themselves to ensure a continuous supply. “It was the fruit that convinced me to be a part of the project,” she said. “I’m still positive that the project will become successful commercially.”

The Galdden Guli enterprise is scheduled to start their business by the end of next year, and they plan to expand their product line by using avocado leaves and other herbal plants.

With the market focussing more on tourists and individuals who have a taste for avocado, a box of avocado tea with 20 sachets will come at a cost of Nu 200, while 100g of the flour will cost around Nu 400.

Younten Tshedup

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