New morning in Kakani !
January 2010; Strawberry farming has been a blessing for farmers like Chinimaya Lama of Kakani, Nuwakot district, who due to poor family condition was deprived of the opportunity to receive formal education. 'It wasn't just my family; the entire village was suffering terribly and desperately needed a way out," she recalls.
Today, the 29 year old is a successful strawberry entrepreneur and supports the education of her three siblings.
Strawberry farming was first introduced in the district almost two decades ago. The farmers bought the plants but were ignorant of cultivation techniques or skills required to reap the maximum benefits until 2001 when UNDP Micro-enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP) stepped in.
MEDEP provided entrepreneurship trainings and established linkages with micro-finance institutes for micro-credit access, market network and promotion schemes such as packing and branding to over 200 farmers from the area.
Today there are 312 plus small land holders in the village, cultivating strawberries who used to live in abject poverty. Of these, 126 have formed a Multipurpose Cooperative called Nava Bihani Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative. Chinimaya holds an official post in the Cooperative.
"We didn't know the proper techniques to get the most out of the strawberry farming, now we produce and sell almost 250,000 kgs a year," says Kanchaman Tamang, the chairperson of the Cooperative and the District Micro-Entrepreneurs Group Association (DMEGA).
When the strawberries grow, the farmers collect anywhere between 150 kgs to 3,000 kgs per day. The large berries are sold for up to Rs 350 per kg to five star hotels in Kathmandu and are exported to Calcutta, India also. The smaller ones are sold for lesser price.
The Cooperative helps members to grow and market their products charging just three paisa per kg which goes into their Co-operative Management Fund. With the collected money in the fund, the group has constructed a 'collection centre' at the cost of Rs 315,000 which serves as a storage place.
Nava Bihani is the first MEDEP sponsored co-operative to receive an approved loan of NRs. one million from Nepal Rastra Bank (Central Bank) as a part of the
Rural Self Reliance Fund. The amount will be used by the co-operative to provide loans to the needy members to expand their enterprise as many of them are now planning to start asparagus, mushroom and rose cultivation.
'The villagers now have tin instead of straw roofs, proper toilets, television and money to educate their children and have access to modern health services.
My family alone saves up to Rs 35,000 a year from this business," says Chinimaya Lama who hopes that someday all the villagers will be educated.
As winter sets in the country, most farmers across rural Nepal will have long harvested their crop. But high in the hills of Kakani VDC in Nuwakot district just 30 km northwest of Kathmandu, winter is a season of plenty. Earlier, by this time of the year their annual harvest of maize, wheat and radish would have been long over, forcing them to migrate elsewhere looking for work or seek loans, until one fruit, the strawberry changed their lives !