Empowering Women: From Bhui Syau Cultivation to Yacon Syrup Export

February 29, 2024

Phidim, Panchthar. 

High in hills, on a sloppy ground with traditional farmland, a new cash crop farming has begun.

In the villages of Phidim municipality, eastern Nepal, locals are switching to ground apple (locally known as Bhui Syau) farming. Locals heavily reliant on traditional potato and maize farming have now started to plant ground apples in their farmlands with high hope: produce ground apple syrup and export the stuff to the United States.

“Unlike traditional farming, many villagers are now growing ground apples for commercial purposes,” said Sapana Gurung, a local of Phidim-3, Kanchhi Dokan,  “Seed was given to each household. United under various local women groups most locals in this municipality are involved in ground apple farming as new cash crop”

Ms. Gurung, a member of Sunaulo Namdukhola Group, says she’s excited to harvest ground apples in the spring of this year. The long-waited cash crop is now being harvested in villages. “Locals are growing ground apples to make money by selling their products to a private syrup producing firm,” she said. 

Before starting the new cash crop, locals in hilly areas of Phidim used to grow potato, maize and barley. Those kinds of traditional crops were not even enough to feed their family members throughout the year. To end the food deficit and make good income from the cash crop, villagers preferred to switch to ground apples. For locals this year’s ground apple farming was a trial. They want to do more in years to come.

The idea of the new cash crop farming in sloppy areas of Phidim was implemented after the municipality and a private firm working in this sector came up with a joint proposal. Farmers also agreed to be a part of this farming scheme.

“At the behest of the local people, Phidim municipality and we developed a joint-proposal for organic ground apple farming,” said Nirananda Acharya, manager of Kanchenjunga Tea State and Research Center P. Ltd., “Once the proposal was approved by the chief minister we helped farmers of Phidim to grow ground apples for the first time although it was already done in neighboring districts.”

Kanchenjunga Tea State and Research Center P. Ltd, a private company assisting locals to grow organic ground apples and syrup production in eastern Nepal, was trying to expand ground apple farming for commercial purposes. It had started ground apple farming in Falgunanda Rural Municipality Miklajung Rural Municipality and Mangalbare Rural Municipality of eastern Nepal some eight years ago. Other locals were already making good income from the new cash crop. But the locals of Phidim, one of the potential areas for ground apples, were not.

A few locals were doing ground apple farming but their products were consumed only by family members or given to cattle as feed due to lack of markets. In hope of expanding ground apple farming and supporting income generation of locals the Phidim Municipality in partnership with Kanchenjunga Tea Estate and Research Center distributed seven to eight kgs of seeds to each household. Farmers were trained on how to begin organic ground apple farming, growing techniques and harvest them so that wholesaler companies could buy their stuff for well-known Yacon Syrup production. “Farmers followed organic ways while planting ground apples and their hard work has now paid off,” said Acharya, adding, “Ground apple farming is helping people to earn money. It’s easier than potato farming.”

The company which wants to produce more ground apples as part of the establishing ground apple syrup business firm wanted to expand the farming in Phidim as well. Based on its eight years long working experience in other districts of eastern Nepal the company has a target of producing ground apple syrup so that it could export them in mass scale.  

Organic ground apple farming is cultivable in high altitude areas ranging from 1600-2400 meters. Phidim altitude is suitable for ground apple farming. That’s why the municipality wanted to promote it to uplift the lifestyle of farmers. A plant yields up to 20 kgs ground apples. This kind of new cash crop farming was made possible with the financial support from Innovative Partnership Fund (IPF), a program under Provincial Local Governance Support Program (PLGSP). PLGSP is a flagship programme of the Government of Nepal funded by Switzerland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the European Union, with UNDP as a technical support provider. 

In partnership with local government UNDP Nepal’s Innovative Partnership Fund (IPF) is supporting local communities for their economic empowerment. Because of the Fund local governments are performing their best to improve governance and employment opportunities are created at grassroot level.

As part of implementing the project the company formed 15 women groups consisting 15 members. This year, ground apple farming was expanded in six wards of Phidim Municipality. In May this year, a total of 225 women were trained for ground apple farming.

Following the training seed was distributed to each group member so that their family could begin the ground apple farming in a scientific way. As prescribed farmers planted ground apples in slopes of Phidim making this crop an alternative cash crop. With the financial support from the PLGSP Kanchenjunga Tea Estate and Research Center trained them and was assured of procuring all the ground apples no matter how much the farmers produce.

To make ground apple farming possible in new areas a total of Rs. 152,5000 budget was arranged for ground apple farming. PLGSP funded 60% of the investment whereas the company provided the remaining 40% of matching fund. 
The aid was used to train farmers in cultivation, helped aid the certification process and support the company to upgrade equipment to ensure syrup quality control.

Excited by the company’s offer, locals switched to ground apple farming. Now, they are waiting to take the benefit from the new cash crop. “This farming will improve gradually. All seeds didn’t grow and some were affected because of insects,” said Ms. Gurung.

Market Prospects 

The company reaches to farmlands for organic ground apples collection. So, farmers needn't worry about how to transport their agricultural products to the city areas. A kg of ground apple fetches Rs 25. If total production is taken into account farmers earned Rs 2.5 million in a year. A few scores of people were employed in the company and some got job opportunities while transporting the local production.

In Nepal, nearly 3,000 people migrate to Gulf nations daily hoping to get jobs, according to the Department of Foreign Employment. The ground apple farming has created job opportunities for rural women. “I used to grow ground apples but that was eaten by children and surplus production was used to feed cattle,” said Tara Shrestha of Phidim-3, adding, “Since Kanchenjunga Tea State has promised to buy all of our stuff, we are excited. We will grow more apples.”

The company has promised to procure all ground apples produced by farmers in Panchthar and surrounding areas. The fresh ground apples are being used to produce syrup.

“Our target is to produce syrup at our own company and export it to the US and other countries,” said Acharya, “Since the production market is expanded, we are hopeful of achieving the set target.”

Last year, farmers in eastern Nepal produced 92,000 kgs of ground apples. The company was successful in producing 4,200 kg of syrup out of the locally produced raw materials. By using ground apples produced by farmers the company exported syrup from the United States whereas the remaining production was used in Nepal.

To expand syrup business, the company plans to onboard more farmers in ground apple farming.

Locals are quite happy as ground apple farming is going well. Their sole demand is that it would be great if Kanchenjunga tea estate procures all of our productions.

“We will do that,” said Acharya, adding, “That will encourage other farmers to begin ground apple farming.”

Future Plan

Mitra Prasad Kafle, Mayor of Phidim Municipality, is excited to see the progress that farmers are making in cash crop farming this year. “Harvesting has begun. As many as 100,000 kgs of ground apple is expected to be produced from Phidim municipality,” he said adding, “This kind of production will increase further in years to come.”

As promised the company is collecting ground apples from villages. Kafle thinks more farmers could be interested in ground apple farming and locals could get more benefit from cash crops if demand for syrup production increases in international markets.

“What I have learned is that the syrup is now being exported only in the US. If its market is expanded to other countries farming of this cash crop would be promoted further,” said Kafle adding, “The consumption of syrup should be promoted within the country and syrup import from Sikkim of India and other places should be discouraged.”