11 - 24 October 2013 #677

Ayo A-du-wah

Already #4 producer of ginger in the world, Nepal can lift farmers out of poverty with this cash crop
Tsering Dolker Gurung in SURKHET

At age 70, farmer Kabi Ram Thapa Magar (pic, right) did something he had never done before in his long life. He stopped growing maize and switched to ginger.

Thapa Magar was reluctant at first and full of doubt: what if the crop failed or he couldn’t get the right price? He would have neither food, nor money. But with neighbouring farmers in Lekhpharsa of Surkhet district, he took the plunge.

He hasn’t regretted the decision. He says: “I found that the value of a year’s production of ginger is equal to that of 10 year’s production of maize.”

The increase in demand for the spice cash crop has encouraged farmers here to triple the area under ginger cultivation. Farmers had been reluctant to switch to ginger because they didn’t have a cushion against a collapse in market prices.

“We didn’t have any other option than to sell our ginger at whatever price the middlemen gave us because if we didn’t it would just go to waste,” says Laxmi Kharel, another ginger farmer here.

With an increase in demand for ginger in the international market, Nepal’s total production grew three-fold to Rs 1.31 billion in the past year. Nepal is now the world’s fourth largest ginger producer after India, China, and Indonesia. More than 60 per cent of Nepali ginger is exported to India because there are no processing plants here.

“Our fresh ginger is exported to a processing country which exports it for a much higher value,” says Rajendra Bhari, project managaer of High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP). “If we establish ginger collection and processing centres within the country, export volume will increase and so will the value of our products.”

EXPERT HANDS: Farmer Kumar Prasai (right) shows Samir Newa (left) of Organic Mountain Flavour freshly harvested ginger in Lekhpharsa, Surkhet district,

Which is exactly what the government’s HVAP is trying to do with support from the Dutch group SNV in partnership with Organic Mountain Flavour, a private company that has been involved in organic ginger production for over three years.

Together the project aims to give 320 families direct access to markets for their ginger and repeat its success story with Jumla’s apples (see box).

“We have a committed and assured market through a strategic partnership with various buyers in Europe and Japan,” says Samir Newa, managing director of Organic Mountain Flavour which is also building a processing plant in Surkhet to manufacture high quality dried ginger powder and candy for the domestic market and export.

Farmer groups in village around Surkhet will supply Organic Mountain Flavour with a set amount of ginger at a fixed negotiated price and farmers can earn up to 15 per cent more if the ginger is certified to be organic. Newa hopes to be able to double this year’s 300 tons of processed ginger production by 2015.

Ginger is the main cash crop in the midhills of Nepal and the soil and climate of Surkhet Valley is primarily suited to it. Illam in eastern Nepal is the biggest ginger producing district. This spice crop is used to make a wide range of products including curry powder, jam, jelly, candy, and sauce and also has medicinal uses. Ayurvedic facilities in India and Nepal are also increasingly using ginger in their products.

Surkhet’s ginger farmers like Kharel are happy they are not vulnerable anymore to the vagaries of the market. She says: “It is great relief that we don’t have to carry our ginger to the town to sell, we have a secure market.”

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Comparing apples and ginger

The government’s High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP) was set up three years ago with support from the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and targets hill and mountain areas of the mid-western region. The idea is to guarantee a fair price for cash crops to reduce poverty.

What the project is trying to do with ginger in Surkhet now was successfully carried out with apples in Jumla. Until recently, the district’s orchards used to be forced to let their apples rot because there was no access to markets. Only about 10 per cent of apples made it out, but today the luscious apples are sold all over Nepal.

HVAP with support from the Dutch group SNV Nepal simply connected apple farmers with the national market by creating links between interested buyers and producers. Training and orientation on organic farming were also provided to the farmers and the brand Jumla Organic was successfully created.

With this certification, Jumla’s apples now have a huge demand in the domestic market. In the last fiscal year, 3,500 tonnes of organic apples were produced in Jumla and much of it was sent out. More than 10,000 households in the district now have apple orchards and the project has raised the living standards in this once destitute region.