How Goma Chaudhary went from earning 30,000 rupees to 3 lakh rupees in 3 years
By Deepak Adhikari
After she moved with her school teacher husband to Salli Bazaar, a small town in Salyan district twenty years ago, Goma Chaudhary opened a small convenience store to support the family of six. Her husband, Samuj Lal Chaudhary, taught science and math at a school which took him two hours to reach on foot, earning only 16,000 rupees a month, an amount grossly inadequate to pay for his monthly expenses.
The couple had invested 50,000 rupees in the small store selling everything from cigarettes to chocolates. “But a lot of our sales were on credit. We didn’t have money to invest in a bigger grocery store,” Chaudhary recalled. At the time, Salli Bazaar had only about 40 stone and mud houses. Now the bustling highway town boasts over 100 houses most of them concrete buildings. The growth can be partly attributed to the paved road that connects Salyan with Surkhet district. The highway has attracted people from far flung areas. Samuj Lal estimated people from as many as 20 districts have settled down here.
Realising that their small business wasn’t helping them earn much, the two invested in goats. They started with two goats and now have 10 of them. Ever the enterprising entrepreneurs, the Chaudharys switched to vegetable farming after it dawned on them that they were spending some 12,000 rupees every year for vegetable alone.
Four years ago, Chaudhary sold off her tiny store and started to grow vegetables in a small plot of land in Salli Bazaar. She made 30,000 rupees selling vegetables in the first year. Over the years, her production has grown significantly.
In the beginning, she feared that she may not be able to pay the lease of 5,000 rupees for the farmland. She has now leased five ropanis of land on a vast expanse of farmland few yards from the highway. She now earns up to 3 lakh rupees selling tomatoes, beans, cabbage and cauliflower. Recently, the couple added a second storey to their concrete home in the village of Bannarjhula in Saptari district. The Chaudharys also have bought a plot in Salli Bazaar.
The 44-year-old is the chair of the 24-member all women Radha Krishna Fresh Vegetable Group. The High Value Agriculture Project group had 14 members when it was formed in 2013. The idea was to empower women so that they could join market based businesses. The HVAP did so by training the farmers on technical and management aspects and linking them to emerging markets along road corridors.
The HVAP also helped the group prepare business plan to attract funds. The most impactful initiative from the project was Business Literary Class (BLC), which brings together about 25 semi-literate women (and some men) from marginalized communities and trains them on basics of accounting. Classes include lessons on operating calculator and mobile phones. A woman trainer teaches them how to use calculator for transaction. They also learn about benefit of being part of the value chain and their role in it.
For women who missed out on education during their formative years, resulting on lack of knowhow that others take it for granted, the BLC has proved invaluable. It has brought about fundamental changes in their life, which they could have spent within the confines of their homes and farm fields, missing the opportunity that’s all around them.
Goma Chaudhary and her fellow trainees have been able to organize themselves, maintain farmers’ diary and conduct their businesses, thanks to BLC. “Earlier, there was real possibility of being cheated by traders because we didn’t know how to add or subtract. Now we know. This has boosted our confidence,” she said.
The group has benefited from the project in other ways as well. All the 14 members save 500 rupees (up from 100 rupees) a month in their collective fund, which they use for raising goats or poultry. Chaudhary and others have also taken advantage of the HVAP’s support for upgrading their vegetable farming. The project invests 75 percent for farming infrastructure such as tunnel for tomato or irrigation system. The farmers bear the reaming 25 percent of the investment.
Another aspect of HVAP’s support is technical expertise. Chaudhary recalled that until a few years ago, she grew vegetables without proper knowledge. “I used to farm in a haphazard manner. I didn’t know that beans don’t grow in the month of Chait (mid-March to mid-April),” she said. But now she can count on an agriculture expert based in Salli Bazaar. Since February, 2017, Nageshwar Nayak, a horticulturist, has been posted to Salli Bazaar to help farmers tackle diseases and other problems they face.
Indeed, farmers like Chaudhary need a lot of help. Farming is not only labor intensive, requiring constant work and vigil; a host of factors such as weather patterns, diseases, irrigation also impact the harvest. Despite the challenges, Chaudhary is already thinking of upgrading her farm. Lack of irrigation in the arid area, which largely depends on monsoon rains, is one of their concerns. But Radha Krishna Fresh Vegetable Group, under Chaudhary’s leadership, is already seeking solution to the lack of irrigation that is preventing them from increasing their yield. Options such as lift irrigation and drip irrigation have been discussed. With support from projects like HVAP, they are willing to contribute some funds to the project.
Chaudhary has endured hard times. Twenty years ago, she was a 14-year-old student at Bageshwari Secondary School in Rakam village of Surkhet when her teacher Samuj Lal started to court her after the death of his first wife. His first wife, who died of paralysis, left behind a toddler son. At the tender age, Chaudhary had to raise the two-year-old, who is now a 22-year-old engineering student. She herself gave birth to two girls and a boy. All of them have now grown up.
What makes Chaudhary happy these days is not the ripening tomato on her farm, but her daughter’s academic achievement. Her 18-year-old daughter Menuka Chaudhary is studying to become a Junior Technical Assistant, that much sought-after profession among farmers. “My wife is leading the group and she’s doing good. My daughter is studying to become a JTA. We hope to achieve prosperity from vegetable farming,” said her husband Samuj Lal Chaudhary.