During COVID-19 Lockdown, Nepal Cooperative Connects Farmers and Customers with Innovative Agri-Ambulance

By Heifer Nepal

June 1, 2020

Bishnu Timalsina, a member of Lekbeshi Cooperative

In This Article

  • In Nepal, the countrywide lockdown means farmers have a difficult time selling their produce.
  • At the same time, many people no longer have access to fresh foods.
  • A Heifer-supported cooperative came up with a solution to both problems.
  • The agri-ambulance connects farmers to customers, cutting out intermediaries in the process.

They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This is exactly how the farmers in Hupseykot, Nawalpur, have reacted to the lockdown set in by COVID-19. With the majority of farmers' produce not making its way to the markets, the vegetables were beginning to perish and incur a huge loss. Determined to help farming families, the Lekbeshi Social Entrepreneurs Women's Cooperative came up with an ingenious idea to collect and sell the fresh produce: by utilizing an agri-ambulance.

The agri-ambulance is now connecting farmers to customers during Nepal's lockdown.

The cooperative acquired a transport pass and started collecting vegetables from the farmers, all while social distancing and adhering to the national protocol. Farmers like Renuka Gaha, who make their livelihoods selling vegetables, never thought they’d be able to market their produce during the lockdown. After taking out a loan from Machhapuchchhre Bank and with interest to pay, Gaha was becoming more worried by the day, but now she’s feeling somewhat relieved.

“Because of the lockdown, farmers were unable to send their produce to the market and it began to rot,” said Mani Pandey of Lekbeshi Cooperative. “There was no way we could let the hard work of our member families go to waste, so in recommendation and permission of the Rural Municipality, we began the agri-ambulance service.”

The lockdown has not only impacted the farmers but has also affected the consumers of the surrounding region, who look to farmer-owned, agribusinesses like Lekbeshi for their daily supply of nutritious vegetables. The services of the agri-ambulance have been a win-win for both struggling farmers and isolated customers.

“The ambulance has not only helped farmers receive a better deal for the vegetables but also our consumers are equally overjoyed,” said Agribusinesses Manager Sushila Pariyar. “On the first day of its operation itself, the ambulance was able to transport more than 350 kilograms of vegetables to the market.”

Prolific vegetable farmer Bishnu Timalsina recalled how, up against the stressful prospect of all her produce spoiling, she endured many sleepless nights. "As soon as I heard that the cooperative would be collecting and selling vegetables, I breathed a sigh of relief," she said.

For farmer Moti Sara Saru, whose vegetable enterprise the cooperative helped set up, the lockdown went into effect just as their vegetables were ready for picking. "We had never felt so helpless," Saru said. "When the cooperative began the ambulance service and began going door-to-door collecting the vegetables and handing us our money, we felt as though a guardian had come to our rescue.” 

Another happy customer of the agri-ambulance service is Kam Maya Thapa. Though she has her own vegetable patch, it was at quite a distance from her home, and she was unable to buy any fresh produce in the market. When she heard the ambulance announce vegetables, she was thrilled. “To be able to have fresh vegetables during the lockdown seems so unreal,” she stated.

Lekbeshi Cooperative member Bishnu Timalsina can now sell her produce using the agri-ambulance.

With a family of five to feed, Achyut Khanal managed to source rice and lentils before the lockdown, yet was having difficulty managing the ration. “I live in a rented house, so I do not have space for growing vegetables, and it seemed unsafe to venture out to the market as well," Khanal said. "So, when I heard the ambulance making rounds it was a great relief to me to be able to get vegetables at my own doorstep.” 

Since beginning this service, farmers have received better prices for their vegetables — by removing the middleman — and prices for consumers have also decreased. Lockdown or not, the cooperative realized the importance of the agri-ambulance. Though they initially rented the vehicle as an immediate intervention, the cooperative has now bought their own vehicle, meaning they can continue providing this vital service of transporting vegetables from the farmers' gates to the consumers' plates.

Story and photos by Bishnu Pandey and Regeena Regmi

 

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