22-28 September 2017 #877

Eating green

Nepal is blessed with an ideal climate range for various types of traditional and new vegetables: these have not been tapped fully
Bhawana Upadhyay

Our 8-year-old girl grumbled as we bought fiddleheaded fern and bamboo shoots at a vegetable vendor in front of Tal Barahi temple, Pokhara. I grew up helping my mother tend vegetables and herbs in our backyard. My daughter has not had that opportunity yet.

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During our stay in Vietnam, I got a chance to learn more about fresh vegetables grown by women in the highlands. Some I had never seen before, others were more familiar: tapioca, cassava leaves, banana blossoms, creepers of chayote, cow peas, sweet potatoes, leafy brassica, unfolded cabbage, taro leaves, water cress and many more.

These women are not just involved in growing those vegetables, but had found a niche market where, because of their rarity, the vegetables fetched higher prices. The women were being helped by an Australian-supported initiative with the Vietnam Women’s Union to revive indigenous vegetables to generate cash income and address micronutrient deficiency in the interior.

Back in 2007, during an Oxfam field visit to Dailekh in western Nepal, I was surprised to not find any green leafy vegetables in the food served at a local hotel. Things have not changed much. Often it is still rice, dal, potato gravy and fermented pickle for vegetarians, and meat as an additional item for non-vegetarians.

Nepal is blessed with an ideal climate range for various types of traditional and new vegetables: these have not been tapped fully. In fact, nutritious traditional greens are being replaced by meat and other items. Although there is growing self-sufficiency, Nepal imports Rs3 billion worth of vegetables from India every year. We produce 2.8 million tons of vegetables annually of which more than 60% is grown to be sold. It has been noted that the limited production is due to the lack of improved seeds and low investment in research and development of both hybrid and traditional vegetables.

Another challenge for Nepal’s vegetable farmers is low productivity due to poor inputs. The Feed the Future program supported by the US government is helping farmers grow high-value and nutrient-rich vegetables, among other crops. It reports that the gross margin of vegetables increased by 161% in its working areas in 2014. Better techniques and practices led to a 91% increase in vegetable yield. The Nepal government’s role would be to emulate the Vietnam model to link such programs to improved nutrition while ensuring sustainability.

Given the demand for fresh vegetables in Nepal, this could be a lucrative cash crop to engage women and youth in income generation on rural farms. We all need vitamins and the other essential micronutrients found in vegetables for our health. But first, I will have to convince my daughter to start eating fiddleheaded fern and bamboo shoots.

Bhawana Upadhyay writes on natural resource management and sustainable development issues.

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