Women unlock chains of development in rural Nepal

Bimala Adhikari, shown with her children, heads a rural women's
cooperative in Nepal. ©Rocky Prajapati/IFAD
By Sanjib Kumar Chaudhary

SURKHET, Nepal – Amidst the hustle and bustle of passing vehicles, dust and honking horns on the Surkhet-Jumla road, about 350 km west of Kathmandu, the patches of green vegetables within a few minutes’ walk are a soothing treat to the eyes.

The proud owners of the vegetable plots are women, most of them affiliated with the Nari Ekata (“Women United”) Women’s Cooperative. With 124 members, all of them women, the cooperative is not only empowering its members but also creating a bandwagon effect. The result: More and more women are eager to join the cooperative. Thanks to their vegetable farming, they earn enough to send their children to school, pay for other miscellaneous expenses and save a little.

“The women have literally changed –personally, behaviourally and professionally,” says a member of the cooperative, Shanta Oli. “Women who were once not even able to utter few words in a meeting are now leading income-generators for their families.”

Linking producers and traders
Bimala Adhikari, President of the cooperative, manages her family expenditures by growing and selling cabbage, cauliflower, broad leaf mustard and other vegetables. She recently added a plastic greenhouse to grow tomatoes in her small plot of land.
A doko trader carries produce to sell from house to house.
©Rocky Prajapati/IFAD

“Seeing me earning more by growing hybrid tomatoes, other members have started building greenhouses, too,” Adhikari says. “The techniques were taught by the experts from HVAP,” she adds, referring to the High Value Agriculture Project in Hill and Mountain Areas. The project is being implemented by the Ministry of Agricultural Development and financed by IFAD. The SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and Agro Enterprise Centre are the implementing partners.

HVAP has provided production and post-harvest support – including quality seeds, technical know-how and advice – to members of the Nari Ekata Women’s Cooperative and other smallholder farmers. The project seeks to create sustainable market linkages between small producers and traders. Concentrating on seven high-value agricultural commodities (off-season vegetables, vegetable seeds, apples, goat meat, timur, ginger and turmeric), it aspires to provide benefits to each actor in the value chain through inclusive development.

Regional and national markets
As the sun sets, women traders start collecting freshly harvested vegetables from the plots owned by the cooperative members. They use the doko, a traditional Nepali basket woven out of bamboo culms, carried on the back with a strap over the forehead. Nanda Kala Nepali and Dhanshari Nepali are two doko traders who frequent the vegetable plots, collect the produce and sell it from house to house. In turn, they make a decent income. The doko traders share camaraderie with the growers – and being women makes it much easier.

The market in Birendranagar Municipality is vibrant with
merchants negotiating deals. ©Rocky Prajapati/IFAD
The next morning, before the sun rises, the Babu and Shahi Sabji mandi – or farmers’ market – at the heart of Birendranagar Municipality is vibrant with merchants negotiating deals. The mandi is the largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market in Surkhet district.

Vegetable wholesaler Prabal Shahi is busy calling and coordinating with suppliers. Truckloads of vegetables are waiting to be unloaded, while other trucks wait to be loaded with produce for regional and national markets. “When I started this business, I had never thought that it would go so far,” Shahi says. “There are many small vegetable and fruit wholesalers in Surkhet. I want to bring them together to make Surkhet ‘numero uno’ in vegetable trading.”

Shahi’s dream does not seem inaccessible given the volume of vegetables that can be grown in the Surkhet-Jumla, Surkhet-Dailekh and Chhinchu-Jajarkot road corridors, the working areas of HVAP.

The writer is Communication and Knowledge Management Advisor, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation/HVAP.