Mar 212015
 

Willingness to take risks going up: scene from traditional agriculture

Willingness to take risks going up: scene from traditional agriculture

“Agriculture in Nepal is always risky and therefore if you try to change something it becomes even riskier”. Whoever said that – and many did – has a good point. But it also seems that the willingness to try something new at local level is growing. New entrepreneurial initiatives in the local economy are now frequently turning up in the news. Indeed, climate change is drying up the land or causing devastating floods; out-migration is leaving villages half-abandoned and the local labour force depleted; unemployment is soaring more than ever. Nonetheless, local entrepreneurs in districts around the country keep taking risks as they jump into steadily new ventures!

Entrepreneurial scene in Kathmandu: F1Soft's young CEO closing a deal

Entrepreneurial scene in Kathmandu: F1Soft’s young CEO (left) closing a deal

It’s part of a movement in Nepal in general: a growing willingness to try new ways. Young entrepreneurs in Kathmandu are at the pivot of it all, attracting most of the attention which this up-and-rising entrepreneurialism is generating. They are symbols and a few even icons of the idea of trying something new to make money. Heard of names like CloudFactory, F1Soft or CashOnAdd? Well, those are just some of the dozens of shooting stars on the entrepreneurial scene in Kathmandu. Says an Investment Director: “Now we are seeing new and unique businesses, which involve a brilliant choice of timing and products.” But back to the local level.

Local Nepal: warm-blooded entrepreneurialism is out there, too.

Local Nepal: warm-blooded entrepreneurialism is out there, too.

Is the entrepreneurial scene out in the districts as fast and iconic as in the buzz of Kathmandu? Not exactly – it’s more rural and rooted in the soil rather than in global tech-waves. Not much IT-marketing and App-ventures there, to be sure. But on the other hand, there’s an upsurge in new investment – indeed, in risk-taking – in the area of agriculture, especially in vegetables and fruits, exotic meat farming, and more! The countryside remains poor and rural in general, which donors focusing on the “backwards” and “marginalised” – as they’ve done for decades – can only confirm. But the spirit and indeed achievements of warmblooded entrepreneurialism is there. Here’s a quick tour of the latest initiatives!

Pulling up ripe groundapples (or yacon): pioneer farmers

Pulling up ripe groundapples (or yacon): pioneer farmers

Japanese groundapples are growing roots in the soil of Dakhsinkali outside Kathmandu, still within the whirlwind of economic activity in the city. With input from Japanese technical experts, farmers in that part of the Valley learned the cultivation methods only two-three years ago and are already producing groundapples for the market. Indeed, more farmers are picking up on it. With a price of 400 Nr. per kilo, combined with a growing demand for this exotic fruit, local farmers have good reason to start up. As Japanese groundapple is proving its value, the risk of the venture is going down, and the number of farmers alloting land for the fruit is quickly rising.

Despite the experts: farmers growing grapes in Gorkha

Despite the experts: farmers growing grapes in Gorkha

Gorkha tells a similar tale, but this one is without outside assistance. In fact, out in this quite remote part of the country local farmers took an initiative against all expert advice: to cultivate grapes. Otherwise used to growing oranges – a traditional Gorkha product – a few farmers brought ten staplings from Kashmir in India, initially just to enjoy grapes at home. Thirteen years later, the number of local farmers growing grapes has exploded. District agricultural officers said soil and climate were unsuitable, but now steadily more farmers are proving them wrong, planting still more staplings, and making a good income in the process. Growing grapes has become a lucrative farming business!

How kiwi farming got started in Ilam: Icimod's story.

Kiwi orchards in Ilam writes another quite surprising chapter in the invention of new local income sources. Brought to the district by just one local who happened to visit a demonstration site at Godavari three years ago, Kiwi is now grown by 1300 plus farmers in 36 VDCs! In Dolakha, local farmers know too exactly how the popularity of this exotic green fruit could grow that quickly. There the story is the same. Once mature, a Kiwi tree can yield fruit for at least forty years; it requires little work and nurturing; and in Dolakha one kilo of fruit fetches 600 Nr. per kilo, on export markets up to 2,500 kilos! One VDC has made it mandatory for every household to keep a kiwi tree for the same reason, and with the ample proof of profitability, few hesitate!

Visiting one of Nepal's first ostrich farms (video from Rupandehi).

Ostriches is perhaps the most exotic new invention in the area of meat farming. It’s also a strong money-maker and once again, it took only one entrepreneurial soul to prove it. Ostrich Nepal opened up just six years ago, starting with merely 1,500 ostrich eggs flown in from Australia. Why such a novel idea in a country where most are used to chicken as far as poultry is concerned? Well, the owner and initiator, C. P. Sharma, sensed an exploding demand for meat – something that has followed with a growing middle-class not least in Kathmandu – and sure enough, now Nepal Ostrich runs three farms in Rupandehi, recently starting up a fourth in neighboring Dang. The sale is up too and to its further credit, the company employs 62 people!

One more thing about ostrich farming – like most other ideas proving profitable, it is spreading. One kilo of ostrich meat fetches 1,500 Nr. on the market, even 2,000 during peak demand at Dashain, and that kind of income opportunity does not go unnoticed. Nepal Ostrich is now selling eggs and chicks to a number of up-coming ostrich farms while demonstrating usability and recipes to consumers. This February ostrich farming was even the main attraction at a trade fair in Dhadeldura!

Local entrepreneur of rabbit farming: Chapagain

Local entrepreneur of rabbit farming: Chapagain

Meat is indeed just not chicken or even goats and buffalo, for that matter. If ostrich farming is the most exotic, here’s a close second in new initiatives: rabbit rearing! In Balambu west of Kathmandu, the owner of Nepal’s first commercial rabbit farm, Ujjwal Chapagain, has made rabbit meat take-off like a rocket on the city market. Middle-class, health-conscious consumers, and not least expats and tourists on the five-star hotels in Kathmandu, welcome rabbit meat for its many health benefits. Indeed, it tastes well, too. And what’s even greater from a rabbit farmer’s point of view is the fast rate of reproduction: one rabbit becomes 40 in just one year! Seeing the high potential, local farmers also from Dolakha and Sindhuli are starting up too.

Trying new methods: rediscovering use of urine as fertilizer.

It’s not only a willingness to take up new types of fruits and meat but also novel cultivation methods that now characterises local entrepreneurship. One of the big jumps that some farmers take is a courageous shift to organic farming: it’s a leap into the unknown – and uncertain – as many farmers have forgotten most of the techniques pre-dating modern use of fertilizer and pesticides. But once again, the health-conscious middle-class – a growing market – and individual farmers with an entrepreneurial drive have stimulated initiative. Even an idea of using human urine as natural fertilizer is spreading. One farmer just recently shifted to urine from the household toilet and witnessed to his amazement how his cabbage grew to double size and his income too – in one year! It didn’t take long before most villagers in his area started to collect their urine as well!

Another case of local entrepreneurialism: wine made on wild berries

Another case of local entrepreneurialism: wine made on wild berries

Innovative wine-making with wild berries collected in the mountains – a steadily more lucrative business that’s now entering the export market too – and initiatives like experimenting with avocado growing, so far with promising initial results, even a shop based on old barter principles, exchanging vegetables and fruits for agro-input like seeds and fertilizer, are just a few of the many additional branches on the tree of local entrepreneurship in Nepal. Indeed, it’s not as spectacular and high-tech as the IT companies on the entrepreneurial stage in Kathmandu. But the willingness to take risks is clearly higher than in the more traditional rural communities of the past. The future will show how many more, new ideas will blossom in local Nepal.

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