Yogi’s journey from subsistence farmer to one of top traders of Surkhet
By Deepak Adhikari
Govinda Yogi manned the counter of his vegetable shop along a bustling road in Birendranagar, the headquarters of Surkhet district in mid-western Nepal. Green vegetables-- cabbages, cucumbers--were kept on racks as Yogi’s employees took orders from customers and weighed the vegetables. It was late afternoon, which meant customers were out shopping for vegetables. The shop, among a dozen wholesalers in this town of 50,000 people, remains busy every day in early morning and evening, when small shop owners and customers purchase vegetables.
Outside the shop, a pick-up truck and jeep were being loaded with dry vegetables such as onion and potato. Yogi, a 39–year-old man with a lean frame which he draped in layers of white shirt and black waistcoat, was himself travelling in the truck to Kalikot, a district 70 kilometres north in Karnali region, to sell the products.
“I am happy with what I have got now. I get to travel to several places in course of my business. I also get to meet farmers and talk about growing vegetables,” he said. “I will also tell famers what to grow in upcoming seasons and promote their products.”
A former subsistence farmer, Yogi’s fortunes took a turn for better after he moved from the village of Goganpani in Dailekh district to this burgeoning town nine years ago. Back in the village with about 46 households, his life was full of deprivation. After his 52-year-old father died in 1993, Yogi who was eldest among five brothers, shouldered the responsibility of running the family of nine including two sisters. He passed the grade 10 examination that year and travelled to Birendranagar to pursue higher education.
But that was not to be. Before long, he started to support his contractor uncle as an accountant, earning a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees. But he was under pressure to support his large family back in Dailekh. He spent most of time at work, hence missed his classes. As a result, he couldn’t complete his education. In 1999, he married and moved back to Goganpani.
Back at his native place, Yogi resumed vegetable farming at his 12 ropanis of farmland. In Kewal Singh Bogati, a local agriculture technician who ran a nonprofit called Forward, he found a mentor. “He encouraged me to grow vegetables,” Yogi recalled. Until then, smallholder farmers like Yogi grew maize, wheat and rice, but they could barely live off the products for six months. With the help of Bogati, he started to explore commercial farming.
Fourteen years ago, he and other farmers registered a cooperative and started to grow cauliflower, beans, tomato, potato and cabbage. But they faced stiff competition from businessmen who had better resources such as pick-up trucks to carry vegetables to bigger markets. “For almost a year, we had to battle against big businesses that enjoyed monopoly over vehicles for transportation,” he said.
Members of the cooperative decided to have their own vegetable collection centre in Ratanangla, a township of about 40 households. Yogi was tasked with setting it up. With the zeal of a man committed to perform better, Yogi explored new markets in Nepalgunj and elsewhere.
Farmers would carry the vegetable in doko, a weaker basket and sell it at his collection centre in Ratanangla. By 2005, his supply grew four times. “I used to send 4-5 trucks to Nepalgunj and Kohalpur in a day,” he recalled.
He was buoyed by the success at Ratanangla. So he moved to Birendranagar 10 years ago. Five years after his move, he made yet another stride, thanks in large part to High Value Agriculture Project in Hill and Mountain Areas (HVAP), a $18.9-million project funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) with Ministry of Agriculture Development as an executive agency and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and the Agro Enterprise Center as implementing partners. The seven-year project, launched in early 2011, targeted 13,500 households in seven districts in mid-western Nepal. Its goal: to reduce poverty and raise incomes of smallholder farmers.
Yogi benefited from several training programs and exposure visits organized by HVAP. He was part of a trip to nearby markets of Babiyachaur, Salkot and Bidhyapur, where he discussed with farmers about vegetable production. “We spoke about vegetable seeds and the market for the products. The famers also started to receive technical assistance through HVAP,” he said.
Traders, farmers, bankers and agriculture experts participated in the meetings called Multi Stakeholder Platform. They were crucial in helping develop links that would form the core of the network for the business. The value chain approach adopted by the project was instrumental in building business linkages in order to assist farmers make the crucial transition from subsistence farming to sustainable commercial farming. The initiative has allowed thousands of farmers to sell their agri-products in fast growing markets in and around the region.
Over the years, Yogi participated in training on accountancy, marketing and business management. For him, these sessions proved transformative. He has significantly upgraded his business.
But sometimes, effective learning derives from experience rather than lectures in a seminar hall.
In November last year, supplies of tomato suddenly increased, prompting him to scramble for market. “We hadn’t expected such huge output. It turned out that the harvest was good,” he recalled. Every day during the autumn season, he collected about 70 quintals of tomatoes from 120 farmers from three villages—Chiurikhet, Jangala and Salkot—of Surkhet district. Overwhelmed with the supply, he sought new markets and ended up sending vegetables to the capital Kathmandu, his first foray outside the region.
Still, he struggled to manage the shipment. He had to work overtime and cultivate contacts with traders in the bigger market of Kathmandu. The price of vegetables wildly fluctuated: he suffered loss of one quintal in each shipment. Nevertheless, Yogi learned a few lessons from the transaction. “After the deal, I gained confidence that I could supply to Kathmandu. But for now, I will concentrate on markets here because without cold storage, tomatoes can get damaged quickly. So it’s better not to take big risks,” he said.