While the nationwide lockdown may have helped curb the spread of the coronavirus in Nepal, it spelled trouble for farmers across the country. Unable to sell their produce, they were forced to watch massive amounts of fruits and vegetables go to waste. In an effort to address this problem, UNDP, as part of its larger COVID-19 response, has been helping small farmers to connect to the supply chain of fruits and vegetables and improve their livelihoods.
For the first few weeks of the lockdown, Himalya Jimba, a farmer based in Manhari Municipality, Makawanpur, had no choice but to watch her vegetables rot. She was forced to throw away loads of perishable vegetables, such as beans, eggplants and bitter gourd. Jimba used to sell all her produce in bulk to traders right from her farm. However, since the COVID-19 lockdown, not a single trader has visited her farm.
“I was devastated,” she says. “I spent many sleepless nights wondering how my family would survive.” Jimba then learned about the programme called ‘Marketing Through Cooperatives,’ which was launched by the District Cooperative Union (DCU), Makwanpur, in partnership with a cooperative formed by the local farmers: Sana Kishan Sahakari Sangh, Manahari. The cooperative was one of 71 primary organizations selected under the Cooperative Market Development Programme (CMDP) funded by the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation (MoLMCPA) and UNDP.
As part of the programme, fresh vegetables and fruits are collected directly from farmers, ensuring that they receive a fair farm gate price. At the same time, local consumers are also delivered the items at a reasonable rate during the lockdown. Since 26 April, DCU Makwanpur has been able to sell approximately 1,325 tonnes of vegetables worth around NPR 30 million, helping over 800 farmers continue generate income even during the lockdown.
“The cooperative has been a life-saver,” says Jimba, who has sold about 1400 kg of vegetables through the programme. “I even had better deals than what the traders used to offer me. I hope this continues after the lockdown as well.”
In Kathmandu, the project has partnered with Samriddha Nepal Krishi Sahakari Sanstha Limited, a cooperative that has been operating the vegetable market in Naxal since 2018, to provide a special space for smallholder farmers to sell their produce. The marketplace has 500 members and sees transactions of around 300 tonnes of fruits and vegetables a day. With this partnership, any interested cooperatives under the project are allowed to use the space and sell their products. This provision has helped small-scale farmers improve their income through direct access to the market, while also supporting to strengthen the supply chain.
In Nuwakot, Rupandehi and Syangja, farmers have given a new name to the mobile market they invented to rescue farmers producing during the lockdown: “agriculture ambulance”. It is a delivery truck with unrestricted mobility to help farmers transport their produce from their farm to the market during the lockdown.
This initiative in Nuwakot has helped connect the farmers with their consumers during the lockdown. Launched earlier in May, the mobile market has helped 800 farmers sell vegetable and fruits worth around NPR 1 million in the past one month.
"Had we not invented the mobile market, the farmers would have incurred heavy losses. It has benefited the farmers and the consumers alike, as the prices were fairer," says Rajesh Shrestha, Chairperson, District Cooperatives Union, Nuwakot.
In Rupandehi, within just six weeks, Janutthan Cooperative has been able to collect and sell farmers’ vegetables worth over Rs. 4.2 million using these special trucks.
“I have resumed repaying my loan premium after getting service from agri-ambulance”, says Pannelal Kewat, a farmer from Tilotamma-14. This initiative is supported from Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Cooperative, Siddharthanagar Municipality, Tewa Lalitpur, UNDP Nepal’s SDG Localization Project and implemented by a local partner, Janauthan Cooperative.
The idea of agriculture ambulance has inspired several other municipalities too. A similar facility has been initiated in Phedikhola Rural Municipality, Syangja with technical and financial support of the Value Chain Development Project, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) and UNDP funded by Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
“We do not have to do big things to change the society; even a small step could lead to the most significant outcome,” Mayor Ghanshyam Subedi of Phedikhola Rural Municipality in Syangja district of Gandaki province rightly.
A single vehicle was able to collect and sell more than 16 tons of vegetables within a couple of weeks and benefit hundreds of farmers as well as thousands of consumers.
Special arrangements have been made to ensure that vegetables and milk products do not go waste even when the farmers cannot sell them immediately. The value chain project, in collaboration with the rural municipalities, has constructed a cold-room of 10-ton capacity to collect and store agri produce from villages adjoining the Pokhara Metropolitan City. The storage facility is the main supply center for the local markets in Syangja and Kaski.
Few other municipalities in Syangja and Dhankuta have even provided on-farm support to help the most-affected farmers and vulnerable populations generate some income during the crisis.
The Waling Municipality in Syangja, for example, has been training and aiding the farmers with needful agricultural inputs, while also managing the entire supply chain of agricultural products in all 14 of its wards through direct involvement in buying and selling the local products.
Dhankuta Municipality has been helping over 600 vulnerable farmers to practice “climate smart agriculture” through training, technology support, agricultural inputs, and expert guidance.
“With complete support from the farm to the market, we are able to earn a decent living by selling vegetables even during this crisis,” say Rojina Rai and Pramisa Rai of Hilley, Dhankuta. “We look forward to a future in the farming business.”