MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Nepal is generally known throughout the world for its culture, stunning geography and diversity. But local products like noodles, herbs, crazy hats, and pens are helping the country rebrand itself in the international and domestic market, and broaden its identify beyond being the land of the Buddha and
Customers in over 80 countries buy seven billion worth of Nepali handicrafts each year. Statues, thankas, metal works, pashmina shawls and silk scarves reach China, Switzerland, Germany, USA and many other countries. Similarly , Nepal is the undisputed leader in the noodles market for South Asia. Today, Rara and WaiWai are not only international brands, but WaiWai has even managed to open factories in Sikkim, Guwahati and Rudrapur in India. Nepal has also taken a giant leap in the juice market with profits extending beyond six million.
Out of the 1,600 medicinal herbs found in Nepal, 162 are exported in half-processed forms to various countries. In the fiscal year 2067-68, export to India alone was worth Rs 860 million, but these figures could have been much higher. Since Nepal lacks laboratory facilities, herbs like yarsagumba, nettles, jasmine, mint, cinnamon have to be sent abroad for processing. As a result, only herbs that are well-known to foreigners find a market.
Among cash crops, tea, cardamom, and ginger reign supreme. Tea ranks among the top twelve crops of
high-value exported to third countries, and Nepali tea has even overtaken Darjeeling tea. Nepal is currently the largest exporter of black cardamom used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes in the west. Ginger from Salyan and Pyuthan reaches the Gulf countries through India.
Nepali construction products are also performing well. Out of the 3 million tonnes of cement required annually in Nepal, over 70 per cent is produced locally. The pipe industry has annual transactions amounting to Rs 1.5 billion. 80 per cent of Bhutan's electricity transformer need is met by a Nepali-Thai company.
After multinational companies like Unilever and Dabur entered the country, many products like Close-Up, Pepsodent, Babul, Dabur Lal are now made in Nepal. In fact, Dabur Nepal, sells 80 per cent of its products to India.
Another Nepali product, Star Line ball-pens are very popular in Australia, New-Zealand, Japan, Korea and the Gulf.
The prime minister's economic advisor Rameshwor Khanal says the rapid rise of Nepali products is a result of growing internal consumption which motivates companies to develop better quality products, which in turn improves brand value and increases exports.
However, Ratnaman Maharjan who exports handicrafts to the US, Europe and lately China laments the mass exodus of skilled and semi-skilled workers, many of whom now make handicrafts abroad. He says if this problem is not addressed, a whole generation of artists will never learn their ancestral art and those who do, will make Nepali handicrafts that sell under foreign labels.
According to Nepal Rastra Bank's data, the total volume of exports for the first six months of the current fiscal year stands at Rs 35.92 billion, a significant increase from last year's Rs 64.56 billion. However, imports still largely out number exports and the trade deficit has increased by five per cent to Rs 330 billion. Experts agree that this gap could be reduced if the companies paid more attention while marketing unique brands like herbs, mineral water, and textile.
Nepal Tourism Year 2011 and Visit Lumbini Year 2012 have played important roles in rebranding a country that went through 10 years of civil war. But greater possibilities in tourism, agriculture, and medicinal herbs still lie untapped.