Commercial vegetable farming- A new livelihood option for farmers in Udayapur, Nepal

   TwitCount
Anu Joshi Shrestha
Aleeza Karki

Bishnu Prasad Ghimire, a vegetable farmer from Triyuga, a municipality in Nepal’s Udayapur district, recalls how up until a few years ago, his community relied on neighbouring districts or Indian states for vegetables. Udayapur has seen a transformative change in recent years, with plots of land that were left fallow for years being converted to vegetable patches.

The Support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalaya (Himalica) initiative has been working in three village development committees (VDCs)—Bagaha, Rauta and Saune—in the district to develop climate resilient vegetable value chains. Farmers in these VDCs are growing vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, green pepper, chili, radish and several varieties of gourd. “Most of us grow enough vegetables to eat and sell in the market,” comments Ghimire. The ability to do so has improved the socio-economic conditions of the rural people of Udayapur.

Farmers at a pilot village in Rauta with community officer Moti Man Limbu

The pilot sites all lie along the Everest–Saptari transect of the Koshi basin. They have been selected strategically for the upstream-downstream linkages between them. While Bagaha lies in the lower belt of the country, Rauta lies in the mid belt and Saune in the upper belt. The vegetables cultivated in these VDCs benefit from seasonal advantages pertaining to both the plains and the mountains. Because the Everest–Saptari transect is rather short and enjoys road connectivity, vegetable farmers and traders from Udayapur can sell their produce in markets in the mountains of Solukhumbu as well as in the plains. Villagers in Himalica pilot sites in the district are beginning to realize that they can access markets far and wide if they grow vegetable commercially and want to stop importing vegetables from the plains altogether.

However, water is and always has been a major concern in Udayapur. Research papers and assessment reports show that ground water is depleting and water scarcity is a problem that generation of locals have lived with. There are floods during the monsoon and droughts during the dry season. This has historically been the reason behind the decline of farming in the district with families opting to send their male members to the Gulf or Malaysia to work and send remittances back home. With the Center for Environment and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), a national NGO as a partner, Himalica has introduced climate smart technologies and practices into vegetable farming in the region. Climate smart interventions that are water smart, soil/nutrient smart, weather/crop smart, energy smart, knowledge smart and gender smart were introduced in the district in 2015. 

Demonstration and hands-on training sessions helped farmers understand and implement concepts such as the selection of crop varieties to suit recent weather trends; the maintenance of soil health with the right use of manure, biochar (charcoal based urine fertilizers) and organic fertilizers; the use of simple and affordable water harvesting/management technologies such as plastic ponds, drip irrigation and waste water management; and the development of trenches and alleys. Farmers growing vegetables in the district have also received trainings on enterprise development and have their own business plans. They have formed cooperatives for collective marketing of their vegetables. Additionally, many women farmers are looking to register as vegetable entrepreneurs.

Farmers at a pilot site in Bagaha with community officer Lal Bahu Shah

Krishna Bahadur Magar, a farmer from Rauta says, “I own six kathas of land. This year, I made approximately four lakh rupees by selling vegetables. I would never have imagined this to be possible before. Enterprise development and business plan trainings have helped us understand the market and the benefits of vegetable farming.” Another farmer, Urmila Khadka from the same VDC says, “I am now a breadwinner for my family and can actually invest the remittance money my husband sends from abroad in our vegetable business.” She, along with other women in the district, is beginning to identify herself as a vegetable entrepreneur and takes great pride in her work. “My husband is returning home because the vegetable business generates a sufficient income for us to send our kids to good schools and colleges,” Khadka adds.

Hari Bahadur Magar, from Rauta worked in Qatar and Malaysia before he finally found security in vegetable farming at home. “Working in foreign countries is difficult and the money is not always good. When I returned home  two years ago and saw that my fellow villagers had set up good businesses based on vegetable farming with the help of interventions from the Himalica project, I decided to give it a try as well. I have a good life now and a good income. It is much better to do something close to home and family than to toil away on foreign soil,” he says.

Of the 549 farmers associated with the Himalica vegetable value chain in Udayapur, 64 men and 115 women—have entrepreneurial plans of expanding their vegetable farms into large-scale commercial farms. Already, there are nine farmers’ groups in each of the three pilot sites running as cooperatives and in the process of being registered. Plans are in the works to market and sell vegetables from Udayapur under the brand name, HIMALICA–green products from the mountain.