When the team from the Institution for Suitable Actions For Prosperity (ISAP)
wanted to track down some nomadic yak farmers last December, they were given a simple instruction: “Once you reach the village, park your motorbikes, and walk straight up.”
After a two hour-long bumpy motorbike ride from the town of Jiri to Kalaptar village, they found themselves staring up at the enormous Mane Hill. With virtually no one in sight and the forest surrounding them on all sides, the only way was up. It took almost an entire day before the team managed to locate the elusive yak herders.
This was one of the more harrowing moments of the churpi project, recalls ISAP executive director Pankaj Parajuli (pic, centre), whose interest in the yak cheese delicacy was piqued while trekking through the Langtang region last year. Yak herders who peddled milk to him had complained of little demand for churpi in the mountains. Yet, there was a shortage of supply in the city. Curious, the team trekked to Taplejung, Shankuwasabha, Dolakha and Rasuwa in central and western Nepal to interview farmers and identify the root of the problem.
ISAP was started last May by three friends - Pankaj, Biwa Giri, Agraj Dangal – who were fresh out of college and wanted to encourage young Nepalis to start their own businesses so that not all of them would migrate abroad for work. Others have since joined the venture through word-of-mouth.
The institute provides mentorship, financial assistance, technical knowledge, and helps small firms connect with the national market by creating links between interested buyers and producers.
Besides churpi makers, Pankaj and his team are currently working with pickle manufacturers and tomato farmers. They hope to market these products, which have a huge potential in overseas markets, in order to help poor Nepalis break out of the cycle of poverty and become self sufficient. They are also filming a documentary series on successful youth entrepreneurs, in hopes that many more will be inspired to start their own companies.
Says Pankaj: “I feel like I have all these unearned privileges, and I have to do something to repay my debt to society.”
Toh Ee Ming
Who moved the chewing cheese?, HARIZ BAHARUDIN
Cheesy Bites, SITA MADEMBA
The Churpi Lifecycle: An Infographic, AYESHA SHAKYA