Private equity investor to fund seed growers in Bhutan

Bhutan is one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, but the Himalayan kingdom has a fundamental problem: Its private sector is relatively underdeveloped and starved for capital.

The Asian Development Bank projects gross domestic product growth of 8% for the fiscal year ending in June, but the expansion is being driven by investment in hydropower construction, largely financed by the Indian government. Meanwhile, farming and the public sector together account for three-quarters of employment in Bhutan due to "the lack of dynamism in the private sector," according to a recent World Bank report.

To Michael Barth, a former management consultant who helped set up Bhutan's first law school in 2008, this is a moment of opportunity. He has been meeting with wealthy individuals and other private investors around the world to raise $100 million to launch Bhutan's first private equity fund.

Among the companies Barth is eyeing for investment is a production cooperative of 150 farmers growing seeds for fruit and vegetables. It already exports to Japan, but Barth sees room to double output, with the selling point of pesticide-free seeds grown in an environment of clean air and water and the ability to take advantage of trade preferences to ship into India and Bangladesh.

"It's a superior product," Barth said of the seeds. "There are lots of opportunities like this in Bhutan."

Read more at Nikkei Asian Review (Zach Coleman)

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