A farmer in Kalikot leads the way into a future full of opportunities
At 28, Begum Bahadur Shahi (pic) is already a renowned farmer and entrepreneur in Kalikot. His hard work and determination have not only made him rich, but also inspired other residents to begin commercial apple farming. Shahi's remote village in Phoi Mahadev VDC is quickly becoming an organic farming hub.
Spread across 5 hectares, Shahi's farm earns him Rs 300,000 annually. "When I was a kid, my father grew apples in our backyard," recalls Shahi and adds, "so I knew that the soil quality and rainfall pattern around the area was ideal for apple farming." At a time when locals were fleeing the conflict and seeking jobs in nearby cities like Nepalgunj and border towns in India, Shahi left his school in Surkhet and moved back to his village in 2001.
Shahi began with 700 saplings brought from India's Himachal Pradesh under the district agricultural program. Three years later he added another 500 saplings and was selling apples in district headquarter Manma and neighbouring Jumla. Back then there were no road networks and the nearest market town in Surkhet was two or three days walk away. Shahi's profits were limited, but he did not give up.
In 2004 he hired three locals from the village and opened up Begum Nursery and Fruits Processing Centre. Besides selling apples, he started grafting saplings and training villagers in apple farming. In order to increase the value of his product, Shahi also taught himself how to make and package apple candies, juice and jam. These methods allowed him to store products for a longer time, and doubled his profits. "If there was better connectivity to other towns and villages, I could triple my profit," claims Shahi, who earned a national award for exceptional farm management in 2007.
Shahi's achievement is even more remarkable given that Kalikot's arid climate barely allows farmers to grow enough food for a few months. The district suffers chronic food deficit and families are forced to find alternative means of sustenance. Thousands of men flock to Indian towns few months every year in search of jobs, but only the lucky ones manage to earn enough to bring back home, while many others are deceived by their employees. "After months of back breaking labour, my contractor refused to pay me. I was heartbroken," recounts Man Bahadur Buda who was cheated three months worth of wage.
The onset of peace and construction of Karnali highway have given people a reason to hope. In recent years, farmers in the district have made healthy incomes by growing apples, mushrooms, herbs and tea organically. Agriculture expert Chuman Singh Giri believes that with practical irrigation schemes like rain water harvesting, most farmlands in Kalikot can be irrigated even in drought. And if more farmers can replicate Shahi's example, it could even reverse the economic dynamics of the region.
Kalikot is overcoming its past, and although its journey from pitiful to plenty may have just begun, with pioneering entrepreneurs like Shahi, the prospects will only get brighter.
By Anurag Acharya in Kalikot
Issue #605 (18 May 2012 - 24 May 2012)