Smallholder farmers bring high value to their crops in Nepal

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Smallholder farmers bring high value to their crops in Nepal

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Nepal is not any easy place for a farmer to make a living. 

Three-quarters of the country’s terrain is mountainous, there is limited land and the majority of smallholder farmers are forced to depend on rainfall, as only a small percentage of arable land is irrigated.

And yet despite these challenges, agriculture is the backbone of the economy. It provides livelihoods for almost 70 per cent of the population and accounts for about one-third of GDP. 

As many of the poorest smallholder farmers live under difficult conditions, the IFAD-supported High-Value Agriculture Project in Hill and Mountain Areas project (HVAP) is helping them to better respond to the private sector's demand for high-value crops — including vegetables, fruit, non-timber forest products, and medicinal and aromatic plants — which are currently not well-processed or properly marketed.

Through farmers’ organizations, the project provides training and support in production and post-harvest techniques and facilitates farmers’ access to technical services, finances, farm supplies and market information.

In this photo essay Sanjit Das from Panos Pictures meets the smallholder farmers taking part in the project as they connect to new markets and opportunities.

Nim Bahadur Kami in his chili pepper field in Aamkholi village, Nepal. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

Nim Bahadur, 40, is a smallholder farmer. He left his well-paid manufacturing job in India after 15 years, to return to his village, with hopes of spending more time with his family and creating new opportunities for himself.

“I work many more hours than I did when I was in Bombay, but more work in my field means more money now,” says Nim Bahadur. He came back to work his family’s small 0.25 hectares plot against the mountainside. He grows grains and seasonal vegetables and raises goats.

Nim Bahadur Kami harvests chili peppers, which are planted next to sunflowers and beans. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

Nim Bahadur was determined to return to farming and apply a more business-like approach.

He joined a farming cooperative and began to attend training sessions to learn about new farming techniques.

His production has increased and he now has more confidence in experimenting with new crops and techniques. Finding water for the crops remains a challenge for him and for most smallholder farmers in Nepal.

Nim Bahadur’s initial choice to live outside his country has left its mark. His oldest son has followed his footsteps and is now working as a security guard in Qatar. Nim Bahadur wishes he had come back to his home country sooner. He feels he could have provided employment opportunities for his son if he had developed his farming business earlier.

There is a lack of employment options for young people in Nepal and over 50 per cent of the population is age 24 or younger.

“Kids these days want motorbikes and mobile phones, something I cannot provide with my farming income but I am hopeful of change, not for mobile phones but for a better quality of life,” says Nim Bahadur.

Piyola Oli threshes dried onion flowers to separate the seeds in front of her home in Kereni village. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

Piyola Oli is a member of the Pavitra Krishi Sahakari farmers’ cooperative. Though her husband works as a mason, the family’s main source of income is farming. Before joining the cooperative, Piyola had no technical knowledge of how to develop an agribusiness.  

With support from the cooperative, she learned how to best use her small plot of land (1500 sq. metres) to grow crops. The land was not very fertile at first, but Piyola has learned how to enrich it and make the most of it. 

Piyola Oli with a handful of onion seeds. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

One of her main challenges was gaining access to good quality seeds. She has learned how to produce good quality onion seeds from her own produce and her income has increased considerably.

Piyola’s oldest daughter is studying agriculture in school under the Nepali education programme initiated by the government.  This programme helps students take up agriculture as a career option. Piyola hopes her daughter’s newfound expertise will be put to good use on the family farm.  

Nisha Tamilsena waits for a delivery at the Bulbule Agricultural Market in Surkhet.

Nisha Tamilsena, 26, is a fruit trader. She commissions a driver and truck to purchase fruit from smallholder farmers residing in remote rural areas in Nepal and India.

Then Nisha  sells the fruit wholesale from her family-owned wholesale fruit shop at the Bulbule agri-products market in Surkhet.

Local farmers get their produce ready before the market opens. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

Because of the long journey, lack of refrigeration and poor roads, the quality of the produce suffers. Nisha hopes to have her own vehicle soon so that she can reduce her costs, increase her profits and share a larger portion of the profit with farmers.

Her proposal to local cooperatives includes an agreement on sharing the cost of scales and packaging. The packaging preserves the quality of the fruit and an accurate scale will ensure that both the farmer and the trader are not being shortchanged.

Ramikali Baswal with harvested turmeric from her field in Behri Ganga village. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

Ramikali Baswal is a turmeric farmer. She and her family are members of the Mulpani Agriculture and Livestock Cooperative. Ramkali’s son and daughter-in-law received agricultural technology training and the family received 125 kgs of turmeric seeds through the cooperative.

Ramikali’s biggest challenge is irrigation; there is an acute shortage of water that directly affects her farming. To address this challenge, her son and daughter-in- law have received training in applying mulching and inter-cropping techniques.

“My oldest son works as a security guard in Malaysia. He sends money home every two months but I feel that my son should come back to Nepal and contribute to the family business by working in the family fields,” she says.

Krishna Kumari at the cooperatively run vegetable farm in Thigne village. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

Krishna Kumari farms an experimental vegetable plot, managed by 15 families in Thigne village. They are growing a variety of vegetables to determine which crops will best thrive with a limited water supply.

“Though I have leased my land, I still feel that I am a farmer and I should continue farming. The experimental land works as a perfect opportunity to collaborate and continue farming,” she says.

Like all parents, Krishna and her husband would like to provide a better future for their children and truly hope that there will be fewer issues with water in the future. 

Workers Puran Bishwakarma (left), looks on while Dilli Timalsena inspects completed turmeric packets at the Bhattarai Masala factory in Surkhet. ©IFAD/Sanjit Das/Panos

Khadka Kumar Bhattarai owns and manages a turmeric processing factory in Gagrital town. It has the capacity to process 50 tons of raw turmeric a year. He buys turmeric mostly from farmers in the HVAP project area and has a yearly contract with them. In 2015 Khadka processed 20 tons of raw turmeric in his factory.

Before starting his business, Khadka worked as an apple trader in India for 10 years. His thinking has changed and he is now quite inspired by becoming a successful entrepreneur in his home country.

Khadka’s turmeric is very popular and he was able to increase market demand due to the efficiency of the factory and the quality of the turmeric.