- Issue: Spring 2021
Hazelnuts, known for the rich, distinctive flavor they lend to spreads, chocolate bars, and coffee, are a wonder crop. They’re an excellent source of protein and vitamins. Their oil can be used for cooking and biofuel. And to top it all off, hazelnut trees provide myriad environmental benefits. But they grow primarily in just one part of the world, which means they’re especially vulnerable to climate change—and that could be bad news for Nutella fans.
The amount of hazelnut kernels harvested annually, making hazelnuts the world’s fifth-largest tree nut crop.
The percentage of Turkey’s hazelnuts that are grown in the Black Sea region, where climate change has recently caused heat waves, shifting rain patterns, and severe storms, leading to declines in crop yields and affecting thousands of livelihoods.
Demand for hazelnuts is climbing, but production is slowing due to aging orchards, soil loss, and poor farming practices—a worrisome trend for consumers and confectionary brands that rely on the ingredient.
THE WAY UP
There’s hope ahead for hazelnuts: Along the US East Coast, where conditions are ripe for growing the crop, scientists are experimenting with new hybrid trees resistant to Eastern filbert blight, a fungus that has long hampered hazelnut cultivation in the US.
Since 2015, WWF-Turkey has worked with multinational cookie and cracker manufacturer Ülker Bisküvi—one of the largest hazelnut buyers in the country—on the Sustainable Hazelnut Farming Project, an initiative focused on improving agricultural practices and protecting biodiversity where hazelnuts are grown.
Hazelnut trees make ideal crops. These perennials can thrive despite tough soil, drought, and other harsh growing conditions, and they require no pesticides. They also sequester more carbon than annual crops, reduce soil erosion, and filter pollutants from groundwater.