When JAITI Nepal introduced strawberry farming in Kakani back in 1991, nobody could foresee the success that it would bring in the years to come.
Twenty-three years ago, Kanchhaman Tamang had just returned from working on the construction of a hydro-power station in Himachal Pradesh in India. Tamang describes life in Okharpauwa then as a “challenge, a challenge to survive”. Before the arrival of strawberries in the community, the locals were mainly farming a mixture of corn, rice and barley. Even this wasn’t able to provide them enough food to last six months. A challenge it was. Tamang also suffered a setback after losing his young baby daughter.
Meanwhile, JAITI Nepal was experimenting growing strawberry in Kakani. For unknown reason, it abandoned strawberries and the area was left with strawberry saplings. Locals had no idea what to do with these new vegetation in the area. Kanchhaman recalls “This is when Micro Enterprises Development Program (MEDEP) – a joint initiative of Nepal government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) stepped in and supported local farmers with training, knowledge empowerment and skills to better produce and market the products”. Tamang also shared “We farmers have also believed in strawberry farming and we are a living proof that hard work does pay off”.
All signs prove that strawberry farming has done wonders for Okharpauwa and Kakani. The business from strawberries currently brings in approximately Nrs 6 Crores for the area with a strawberry farmer making anywhere between Nrs 80,000 to Nrs 300,000 in a year. Whilst strawberries may not be a favourite for Nepalis, trends suggest that the fruit is quickly becoming popular with the city folks in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Narayangadh. Strawberries produced by Tamang and other farmers make it to high-end five star hotels in Kathmandu to the footpaths along New Road, each with their own price category. The farmers from the Naba Bihani Cooperative also confirm that the Nepali strawberries are also being sold in Calcutta, India.
Comparing his life before and after strawberry farming, Tamang says “Our lives have changed drastically. The whole community has developed for the better because of strawberries, developing infrastructure, basic facilities and more”. When asked what was the best thing that has happened as individuals from the community began to prosper, Tamang’s voice rose as he ecstatically shared “More and more people are spending on their children’s education. They believe and try their best to provide quality education by sending their sons and daughters to a private boarding school. We also have more youngsters studying past SLC. Without strawberry farming and the money that we make, this would not have been possible. We’ve been able to accomplish so much from becoming a strawberry farmer”.
The strawberry success still has many years ahead and thousands of Nepali lives to transform. With positive signs of growing consumption of the fruit in Nepal, exports to India and spin-offs such as strawberry jams being produced, more studies ought to be done on individuals such as Kanchhaman Tamang whose life has taken a U-turn for the better and the strawberry farming market in Nepal which could easily be worth Nrs 12 crores.
Moreover, strawberry is one product in which Nepal has the comparative advantage. Mid-hills in the altitude of 1500 to 2500 metre have suitable weather condition for growing strawberries. MEDEP has expanded strawberry farming in Rasuwa, Sindhuli, Dolakha, Myagdi, Parbat and Pyuthan districts as well.
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