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Turning Singapore into Nepal

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Most leaders, during election campaigns or after coming to power, make extravagant promises to turn Nepal into a Singapore within a short span of time. Our own PKD went a step further and said he’d do even better by making Nepal the “Switzerland of Asia”.

None of these leaders display the vision, sacrifice, integrity and hard work that was displayed by Singapore’s founding fathers. There is a yearning in South Asia’s messy democracies for a strong-man like Lee Kuan Yew, a righteous dictator, a father-figure who can lead to a brighter tomorrow. Unfortunately our experience with tyrants in South Asia is not very good. They tend not to be nation-builders. So we have to work with what we have–a rambunctious, feckless democracy–and make the best of it.

Just before the Singapore Air Show last week there was a media report about the CEO of Singapore Airlines revealing to an international conference the secret of his carrier’s success. He said the airline was never regarded by the Singapore government as a ‘national treasure’ or a ‘flag-carrier’. He added that inefficiencies (are you reading this, CAAN, GON, RNA?) crop up with government subsidies and political interference. “The government was the main shareholder of Singapore Airlines, but it gave full management discretion to the board…the secret was self-reliance and accountability,” he said. Unfortunately, our leaders since 1990 have treated Nepal Airlines as a personal cash cow and ran a perfectly good airline to the ground.

Traversing Singapore along the PIE in a motorcycle, you can see the result of LKY’s social engineering formula for jobs and economic growth. The idea was to decongest the city centre with housing and industry at satellite suburbs. The state built the infrastructure and subsidised residence apartments and factory floors to citizens, creating homeowners, raising income, creating jobs and leading to growth.

Instead of turning Nepal into Singapore, however, my friends Hans and Cynthia Hofer every week bring a bit of Nepal to Singapore by flying in organic vegetables, herbs and jams from their farm in Phulbari in Kavre. Organic Himalaya grows cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, okra and other veggies and sends them on Silk Air flights for sale in Singapore the next day.

Cynthia, a former Straits Times journalist who manages the business, says her customers keep coming back because they know the vegetables are chemical-free, but also because they taste better. “There is something about the soil and climate of the Himalaya that gives the vegetables the taste that you don’t get in the supermarket produce here,” Cynthia says.

Organic Himalaya employs 50 farmers around Phulbari and indirectly benefits hundreds of other families. It cashes in on Nepal’s unique selling point of clean, green and organic produce. Some near-food purists may criticize the enlarged carbon footprint, but that criticism should be proportionately directed at those air-freighting tons of tuna and salmon around the world, or flying bottled water from France to Singapore.

Organic Himalaya is a demonstration farm to encourage Nepali farmers to sustainable agriculture. And it shows that if Singaporeans want to be more like Nepal, then maybe the answer is for Nepal to be even more like Nepal.



Recycled Chinese apple crates bring Nepali organic vegetables for sale in Singapore.

Organic growth

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16 Responses to “Turning Singapore into Nepal”

  1. Anonymous on Says:

    Dear Mr Dixit

    I am writing to congratulate you for the excellent reporting and brilliantly well done structure of your magazine. It is a shame that the updates are not more frequent but it really is a relief to get information on my favorite foreign country from a source that at least appears reliable. Finally, the editing is good and I have rarely found any errors in either style or structure. So, very humbly and, with the understanding of your accomplishments, congratulations.

  2. KiranL on Says:

    Small is beautiful, and it will be small initiatives like Organic Himalaya that will save the environment, keeps us healthy, create jobs in Nepal and spread happiness. Congratulations to Cynthia!

  3. Roshanr on Says:

    Thank you very much for posting an excellent article.

  4. P. B on Says:

    Nice article. I am really proud to know that Nepal has found its niche. As history repeats itself, I am afraid that Nepali businessmen might not be able to capitalize in this market or most probably a reckless government interference might dissolve the possibility of growth of this new market.
    I am no critic, but I have to say that I am rather disappointed with your ending. You end by saying, “…then maybe the answer is for Nepal to be even more like Nepal” true, but it can be easily misunderstood as purist approach to growth rather than a progressive one. I, by no means, am trying to put words in your mouth, but your ending begs a lot of question, which is obviously not answered. May be that was the whole point, if so, you win. May be it isn’t, and even then, you win, because that is not why this blog is written or the whole point was to abet queries. Irrespective of all the aforementioned points, a nice blog with a peculiar (no offense) ending.

  5. Laxmi Konwar on Says:

    Nice to read an informative article and it made me glad to see how Nepal’s potentiality has been utilized in Nepalese way instead of the big and unachievable dreams that our leaders share with the farmers. Hope to read more such inspring article in future

  6. Yen on Says:

    Singapore’s size is probably one contributing reason to its pattern of urban planning. Some foreigners used to nickname the high-rise flats which house close to 80% of the population, “pigeon holes”. Actually I find that pretty unique to that country because parts of South Asia I’ve been to like Bangladesh don’t really practise “town ship planning”. Services tend to be all clustered into specialised areas. I remembered having to walk for more than an hour to reach a “restaurant street”. But probably the funniest is this long stretch of just pet shops, pet shops and more pet shops. Aquarium tanks of all sorts, cages of screeching parakeets, dogs, rabbits… You’ll be half expecting a crate of spiders to spill onto the side walk any moment. But that being said, there’s been quite a lot of critique about how spatial planning in Singapore is so staid it stifles creativity and room for grassroots activities.

  7. Yvan Van Outrive on Says:

    It’s amazing but it’s true ! Cynthia’s organic Himalaya veggies taste much more fresh and wholesome than the produce I find here in Thailand’s supermarkets . I am a regular visitor to Cynthia’s farm in Phulbari and I have sampled her tomatoes which come from Thai tomato seeds yet the quality of that same seed tomato grown at 1500 metres in Nepal is far superior to the same tomatoes harvested here in Thailand

  8. ashika on Says:

    great job….
    nice to read this article….
    keep it up….

  9. Arjun Neupane on Says:

    Dear Mr. Dixit,

    I was glad to read your down to earth article. I would like to add a statement by the PM Mr. Lee Hsien Loong which he made few years ago in SIA (Singapore Int Airlines) anniversary. “My job is not to protect singapore airlines rather to make singapore as a competitive regional aerohub”. So to be competitive, to be innovative and to be profitable is absolutely the company’s business not the government. So i think our government should take off its hand from selling the shoes and cigarettes rather it should concentrate in creating an investor friendly environmet where people can invest, creating jobs and opportuinities .

  10. tesroankha on Says:

    Well said, for Nepal to be like Singapore Nepal should be like Nepal!!! Mr. Dixit I wish you would also carry similar stories in your weekly. All I can see in recent editions are incomplete political analysis.

  11. Portlander on Says:

    Good article Mr. Dixit,

    More of small economic stimulant companies such as Organic Himalaya need to provide jobs/opportunity for the young and the old, then Nepal’s economy will surely get guided to the right path.

    So people who are capable of opening a small economic ventures should step up and get started. Connect to the right people and get them a job so they do not have to sit around doing nothing or stop the young minds from getting corrupt to the political bandhs and agitations.

  12. rishav on Says:

    Nice and very sweet article. But how does Nepal become more like Nepal? I kind of forgot the meaning of being Nepali of late that’s why I ask.

  13. ji on Says:

    Phulbari works as it is close enough to the airport. This can’t really be scaled up as a few bundhs could waste a huge proportion of the seasons stock. Western suppliers will never shrug and accept a bundh in the same way as Nepalis do.
    Nepal needs a new generation of politicians there to serve the nation, who show respect for democracy who accept that if they don’t get majority support it’s not happening, but I’m not holding my breath, it would turn me blue and knock me out. Like the current politicians are doing to Nepal. Does anyone expect the next election to be held on time. How about this – all politicians who have failed to get it done in time are debared from standing again.

  14. Shivaji on Says:

    You gave us an excellent opening with great punch lines that have a real southern bourbon punch effect which can definitely quench my thirst! You have also provided us with great “body” image which we can all aspire to become in this 21st Century and you are certainly raising the bar like Sergey Bubka. However you have only provided us with a disappointing and lackadaisical ending which is very typical of a bureaucrat- really this looks like another a fall from grace just like Michael Jackson’s. Sadly your article is no different from those false, extravagant promises made by our recalcitrant politicians. Go a bit harder, mate!! Other than that, it was quite a good effort and you’ll get a nice cool VB ( Victoria’s Bitter) on my SHOUT if you come to meet me here “Down Under”- I need to encourage you to do better and to then finally provide us with the professionally polished proposal that our Nepal so richly deserves!!!!!!!!

  15. Nepal Kathmandu on Says:

    Mr Dixit, Its always a pleasure to read your articles.

    Instead of giving promises to turn Nepal into Singapore, why not go stepwise. We don’t need to go too far now. India has progressed by leaps and bounds. Why not learn something from India ? We are always busy saying India did this and that . We have no action.

    Taking knowledge from competitors will improve our run with them as well.

  16. Dream come true on Says:

    […] had tried his hand at organic farming in Nepal, but didn’t succeed. He had been lured here by a vacancy ad for managers at a local KFC, […]

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