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Corona wallops farming in eastern Nepali hills

Corona wallops farming in eastern Nepali hills

It is time to take the cabbages and beans produced in Kikrya Sherpa’s farm in Phungling Municipality-9, Kunkulung to the market. In the past seasons, he would have been picking his produce from his farms and loading then onto trucks for transport. Not this year. Sherpa, who sold cabbages worth Rs 1.5 million and beans worth Rs 200,000 last year, is now worried his vegetables could rot in the farm.

“Expecting a repeat of previous season’s success, I had planted more vegetables this year and had contacted traders from as far as Jhapa and Sunsari,” Sherpa says. “But the tide has turned. If the pandemic continues, I will be unable to even regain my investment this year.” Sherpa has already spent more than Rs 500,000 on fertilizers, seeds, and tending his farm so far. He sees no possibility of sales now, as hotels and restaurants in the district are closed and people’s mobility is restricted.

Many hotels have opened up in Taplejung targeting tourists going to Pathibhara, Kanchananghal and other nearby places. But these hotels are now closed, and farmers who depend on them are worried. Around 300,000 tourists visit Pathibhara and 2,000 visit the higher Himalayan regions every year.

According to Pasang Rita Sherpa, another farmer from Bungkulung, both the price and demand of vegetables have declined. The market price of cabbage, which was Rs 40 a kg last year, is now Rs 15 a kg, he informs. He has planted cabbages, potato, radish and beans on more than 15 ropanis (approx. 2 acres) of land. The potatoes and beans are ready for the market while cabbages and radishes will be ready in a week, he informs.

Although there are farmers’ markets on Saturdays and Tuesdays in Phungling Bazaar, the district headquarters, the consumption there is negligible, the farmers say. If the vegetables that formerly went to hotels and restaurants are not sold within a month, they will rot in the farms, Pasang Rita says.

Gangamaya Giri, also a farmer from Phungling, adds that the stalks of brinjals, okra and baby sponge gourd plants have started drying. “I produce over two quintal vegetables a week,” she says. “Right now, I am selling only 100 kg a week and that too at minimum prices”. The rest become fodder for livestock, she informs. With the construction of two motorable bridges on the river Tamor and increased business activities in Dobhan Bazaar, Giri had increased her investments in farming. But the lockdown put paid to her plains; most local industries closed and their employees went home.  

These farmers are now asking for a government relief package. “We have invested in farming by taking out big loans,” says Krishna Maya Limbu of Meringden rural municipality. “But now our produces are going to waste without market access. We won’t last for long without government help.”