Exploring agriculture in nepali entrepreneurship
We’ve heard it a little too often that Nepal is an agricultural country. But what do we really now about this sector? What is the real scenario like regarding working in the agro industry? Two entrepreneurs involved in the production side of the field share their experiences and ideas of dealing with agriculture and the numerous potholes in their path.
Sunita Nhemaphuki is the Chief Editor of Krishak ra Prabidhi, a magazine dealing with Nepal’s agricultural scenario. She also gives consultations through Krishi Club Nepal to aspiring farmers.
Sanam Chitrakar has been involving in agriculture and environment related fields. Having studied psychology as well he is a research and development consultant.
Sanam: The issue here is that entrepreneurship is not everybody’s cup of tea. I’ve been intervening in psychology as well and what it tells us is that ‘entrepreneur’ is the new buzz word. In 1995, there was a trend of playing snooker and pool; it had its glory days for a couple of years, the time when you could see snooker rooms everywhere. Then came the Cyber Café era when each and every galli had at least a couple of them and now its all about Futsal arenas. Back in 2008, when I asked some MBA students at a talk program about what they wanted to be after they graduated, 80% said that they wanted to work in a bank. Today, they say that they want to be entrepreneurs. See the shift here. Its all a trend. In fact, the basic definition of entrepreneurship starts from problem. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They cannot be called entrepreneurs if they cannot solve problems.
Sunita: Yes, I know what you mean. When you look at the case of foreign countries, those that produce raw materials are defined as producers. But in our country’s case, even people who are involved in the trade business who bring goods from other countries are termed producers. Who actually deserves the title of producers? Those who are involved in agriculture can only be called producers. They start from raw materials and bring it to the hands of customers through different channels regardless of the value of loss and profit in between. In Nepal, the concept of farmers as entrepreneurs or producers has only just started. Agriculture was never taken as an occupation; even now, farmers are placed at the same level as cheap labor.
Sanam: When you go back to the definition of entrepreneur as a problem solver, I’ll give you an example of harilo.com. The site is letting people in Nepal choose products from stores in the US, post their requests to the site and get them delivered to their homes through them. Harilo.com is helping a Nepali get access to foreign products that aren’t locally available. Right from our education system, we’re stuck with the concept that education is only to produce degree holders. We have not been able to get into the notion of educating for the purpose of supporting industry level development. That is why getting involved in agriculture means we’re not taken seriously. Its all the same; when I started getting into agriculture my family was against it. But today they’re compelling my cousins to join me in vegetable farming because they see others making a profit from it. “Everyone’s doing it, why don’t you?”
That’s a line I’ve heard too often. We categorize people according to their educational qualifications. But to become an entrepreneur, education is not the biggest priority. Not everybody can become an entrepreneur just by saying so. It has to be supported by their character. I am against the whole hype that revolves around the word entrepreneur. There is no way everyone can find success in it. That is the harsh reality.
Sunita: Real entrepreneurs have that drive to go on despite problems in finding success, no matter what. It is what makes them. But focusing on agricultural producers – who will play an important role or what will uplift them, those are the questions. I mean, to develop a quality thats needed in agriculture-focused entrepreneurs.
Sanam: Psychologically, we’ve categorized into two kinds of people. First, there are the ones who fear. They cannot take risks. And second, there are the risk takers. Entrepreneurs are risk takers. In the issue of agriculture, its commercialization has just started in our country. Commercialization started from consumption. People didn’t need to buy vegetables before since they had land to grow their own. Then these lands were sold or used to build houses, so vegetable stalls became a necessity. In the far western region of the country, people complain that no matter how much manure they use, nothing seems to grow. This fact is false. They’re only finding an excuse because their family members, who work abroad, are brainwashing them into thinking farming is for lowly people. Our education system itself tells us those who work the farms are lowly. Our society needs to break away from this status quo.
Sunita: Patience is a must in farming. Unlike other businesses, its results cannot be seen within six months or even a year. This makes it very difficult for farmers to pay loans to banks. If people want to make it as agricultural producers, don’t you think they should be taught how to handle such things?
Sanam: You see, every society suffers from status anxiety. Especially in developing South Asian countries like Nepal and India, this is more prominent. And the area where you can see this in our case is “rice”. Rice is status. I went to an eatery where I ordered millet rotis with honey. Its really tasty by the way! But when I asked for them, the whole place looked at me like I was from another planet! Because to them millet is the food of the poor. When in reality, millet has more nutritional value than rice. The issue here is that everything needs to be related to status. Truthfully, rice is not the staple food of everyone. Not for the people in Humla and Jumla whose staple food is corn. I started farming in 2010. I used to do research in the sector of agriculture when I realized hat there’s great scope in farming, so I got into it. Doing research in composting, we realized that the problem is in farming itself.
Sunita: We provide consultancies in the agriculture sector (Krishi Club). We give free consultancy for 6 months, and we give our clients time, suggestions and help out with internships. But we’ve seen cases where the intern has run away after one day at a pig farm. I asked the guy what happened and he replied, “Its too disgusting to stay there…” (chuckles)
Sanam: When people approach me about starting farming, I simply ask them – why? They get taken aback by this.
Sunita: Yeah! We do the same.
Sanam: Many people have replied because they didn’t get a job elsewhere. Only a few say they’re doing so out of passion.
Sunita: Even those few numbers who are working have to be able to show the real situation of their farms. They shouldn’t be hiding their problems fearing what others will think of them. They should be open about it and not try to hide their problems under the carpet and falsely praise the agricultural sector.
Sanam: It was a similar case when I was doing some research on migration several years back. In 2002, there was one porter who migrated from Rolpa. We found it interesting that someone would move all the way from Rolpa to Kathmandu, so we sought him out. But the very next year, there were a hundred. Now imagine how that one person must have influenced the community by false praise. To avoid similar situations in agriculture is exactly why the study should include other sciences like sociology and anthropology as well. They need to have a clear idea of those subjects too.
Even anthropology is a must. How that helps is – let’s talk about the Gurung community for example. Millet is very important to them. They survive on it. But if they’re compelled to cultivate cash crops in their millet fields, we may destroy their whole social structure.
Sunita: Here we have subjects on Agriculture and Agricultural Veterinary. These students are only taught about which disease should be diagnosed with what. But you never know what type of diseases can emerge in livestock or vegetation. A farmer should be self sufficient in dealing with such situations. So yes, those wishing to get involved in agriculture should have at least a basic knowledge of all subjects – even politics, even communication, management and the mathematics that affects their work. We have to make them independent to solve all these problems related to agriculture.
Sanam: Agriculture is related to the lifestyle of a person, that’s why it is unstable. New issues will always emerge; at present it is the unreliability of the government. Governments shouldn’t even intervene directly into these sectors. We saw its devastating results in the issue of hybrid seeds 2-3 years back.
Sunita: The inability to channel the information to the right people in the right way is the main problem.
Sanam: Farming can start really small. You can even start from a pot in your terrace. Its not about land or large investments. Like you said, it is about patience and passion.