Nepali Times
Organic growth


Dawn is just breaking. Overnight, rain has made the monsoon clouds hang low over the surrounding mountains, but Baburam Kunwar is already heading off to his fields in Godavari.

He works meticulously and efficiently, checking each and every lettuce leaf, the tomato plants, the root crops for signs of damage from insects and worms.

Kunwar works in an organic farm, but because he is not using chemicals to kill off insects and other pests he has to be extra vigilant about his precious vegetables being destroyed. But the reward for the hard work is not just a higher price for his veggies in Kathmandu's market, but also a sense of pride that he is not poisoning his environment.

Kunwar's crispy-fresh greens may not have the artificial plumpness and shine of commercially grown veggies, but they are more vitamin and mineral rich, and a whole lot healthier.

The combination of local and natural is what makes the produce of farmers like Kunwar stand apart. Kathmandu Valley is historically renowned for its rich vegetable crop which has found its way into traditional Newari cuisine. But today, with urban sprawl crowding out the fertile furrows of cauliflowers and potatoes, vegetable production has shifted to the Valley's outskirts and surrounding districts of Dhading, Kavre and Nuwakot.

The first thing one notices in an organic farm is that it's full of insects?ladybirds, bees, earthworms, snails and beetles. Many of these are good organisms that help eat harmful insects, or like earthworms naturally fertilise the soil. A commercial farm on the other hand, is essentially a monocrop, where pesticides kill all the good insects and worms along with the few bad ones.

Increased health awareness among the upper middle class in Kathmandu now means that customers are willing to even pay the 20 per cent extra for organic produce. But with inflation, people are getting more price conscious and some families are buying whatever is cheapest.

Prajwol Khadka, a struggling owner of an organic farm in Panauti, says: "The difficulty is that people don't understand that organic food isn't just a western fad." So Khadka tries to tell his retailers that this is how the farmers of Kathmandu Valley used to grow vegetables in the past?centuries ago, everything was fresh and organic.

Documentary-maker Kedar Sharma, who is working on a film on organic food, says: "If organic food wasn't marketed just for rich westerners as it is, it would be affordable. After all, most vegetables in Kathmandu are still organic." Sharma says if the 'organic hype' is removed, more people, not just the elite, can afford healthy foods.

Samir Newa is the founder of Organic Village,which has three organic vegetable shops and many farms in places such as Sankhu, Sanga, Dhulikhel and Pokhara. "Slowly, people are becoming more aware, choosier and conscious of their health," says Newa, who plans to set up a wholesale market specialising in organic food.

Restaurants and hotels in Kathmandu are switching to organic, and have started to include organic food in their menus such as the Organic Caf? in Thamel or U Caf? in Sanepa. There is an organic food bajar every Wednesday and Sunday at the Summit Hotel, where more than 30 items are sold.

eeka Oemisch is opening an organic snack shop?Organic World and Fair Future in Basantapur and says consumer awareness will grow. She adds, "Sensible cultivation is the only way to preserve the environment."

Where to buy organic food:
Organic Village in Baluwatar, Bakundole and Kupondole
Summit Hotel Organic Food Market on Wednesday and Sunday

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)