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. Keeping these issues in mind, UNDP’s Cooperative Market Development Programme (CMDP) has been taking steps to safeguard the livelihoods of the farmer members of its 71 selected primary cooperatives.
Vital help, fair prices: Respite for Makwanpur’s farmers
Hiramaya Jimba is a resident of Manhari Municipality, ward no. 3 of Makwanpur District, Bagmati Pradesh. Her only source of income is vegetable farming for which she has rented about a half-acre of land. She sells her produce in bulk to traders who visit the farm. However, with the COVID-19 lockdown in place, this has come to a complete halt.
For the first few weeks of the lockdown, Jimba had no choice but to watch her vegetables rot. She was forced to throw away kilos of beans, eggplants and bitter gourd.
“I was devastated,” she says. “I spent many sleepless nights wondering how my family would survive.”
Jimba then found out about a programme called ‘Marketing Through Cooperatives,’ which was launched by the District Cooperative Union (DCU), Makwanpur, in partnership with Sana Kishan Sahakari Sangh, Manahari. Sana Kishan Sahakari Sangh, the lead cooperative for the project, was one of 71 primary organizations selected under UNDP’s Cooperative Market Development Programme. 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.
“The cooperative has been a life-saver,” says Jimba, who has sold about 1400 kg of vegetables through the programme. “I even get a higher price than what the traders used to offer me. I hope this continues after the lockdown as well.”
Safeguarding farmers’ incomes in Kathmandu and Nuwakot
In Kathmandu, the CMDP has partnered with Samriddha Nepal Krishi Sahakari Sanstha Limited, a cooperative that has been operating the vegetable market in Naxal since 2018. The marketplace has 500 members and sees transactions of around 300 tonnes of fruits and vegetables a day.
“Since our objectives match, we feel that this partnership will be extremely productive,” says Dal Bahadur BC, Vice Chairperson, Samriddha Nepal Krishi Sahakari Sangh.
Samridhha Nepal has agreed to provide space to interested CMDP- related cooperatives to sell their produces, from a measure that will make sure that smallholder farmer members of CMDP cooperatives are able to sustain their livelihoods. It will also help in shortening supply chains by establishing direct links between producers and consumers. Such a move will reduce the risk of inflated prices for consumers, and ensure better value for producers.
Similarly, the entry of a cooperative in Nuwakot has been beneficial for both farmers and consumers.
On 23 May, DCU Nuwakot initiated a mobile market called ‘Ghumti Sulabh Bazar,’ which has been operating across the district. Farmers from CMDP cooperatives have now been able to sell their produce, while consumers have been able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at their doorsteps. "And the prices have been fair for both," says Rajesh Shrestha, Chairperson, DCU Nuwakot.
Although the market was started as a response to the COVID-19 lockdown, it quickly gained popularity. Around 34,870 kg of vegetables and fruits, amounting to NPR 860,000, have been sold since it was initiated. DCU Nuwakot now plans to continue the market regularly with the support of the CMDP.
The Cooperative Market Development Programme (CMDP) is a joint project of the Government of Nepal and UNDPIt has been operating in six districts adjoining Kathmandu—Chitwan, Dhading, Lalitpur, Kavre, Makwanpur and Nuwakot. Launched in February 2018, the programme aims to develop and operate a cooperative market chain of fruits and vegetables, mainly targeting the markets of Kathmandu Valley and Chitwan. The initiative contributes to increasing farmers’ incomes and other livelihood opportunities primarily in rural areas, and ensures the availability of fresh and quality vegetables and fruits to consumers at a reasonable price.