Fields of Change: The Rise of Upahar Women’s Cooperative
By Regeena Regmi
Upahar Social Entrepreneurs Women’s Cooperative in Salyan district was established in 2011 with support from Heifer International. Upahar literally means ‘gifts’ and the cooperative has proved itself as a much-needed gift to the farmers of Tunibot as the farmers have found a market, and better prices for their products.The cooperative started with savings and credit and expanded its agriculture related services prioritizing the smallholder farmers. It is now providing business development services including agri inputs (seeds, fertilizers), access to finance, agri insurance, aggregation, transport, and marketing of the agri produce and serves as the keystone supporting smallholder farmers to access the market.
It was not easy six years ago, when farmers were skeptical while the cooperative officially announced the collection and marketing of vegetables. Manager of the cooperative, Radha Gharti recalls with joy “No one believed us in the beginning, as we had no infrastructure to collect or store the vegetable, but we were determined, and we managed to collect and sell more than six quintals of vegetable in the first day of the campaign itself”. She adds “We signed an agreement with vegetable traders in the nearby market of Ghorahi and today our vegetables are reaching market in cities like Dang, Butwal, Nepalgunj and the demand is all time high”.
With Heifer’s support, the cooperative has established infrastructures to serves as a vegetable market which also allows farmers to gather during events. Utilizing Heifer’s 50% support, they invested in an agri transport vehicle, which has eased the collection, marketing and transportation of agri products. In April and May this year, the cooperative collected and marketed an impressive 139,312 kilograms (approximately 307,130.02 pounds) of vegetables, generating a transactional revenue of USD 27,115.
The cooperative, with the local government, has run campaigns to encourage and motivate farmers to begin commercial vegetable farming, providing production-based grants and subsidies to the farmer. They have distributed equipment to farmers to set up a tunnel farming system and small tractors to make their work more efficient. The cooperative has also collaborated with Macchapuchre Bank to provide collateral free loans to the farmers at a low interest rate.
Bishnu Rawat, a former migrant labor is supporting his wife Ganesha Rawat, who is a member of the cooperative to run their farming enterprise. Bishnu said “After facing numerous challenges and difficulties abroad, I returned to Nepal. Our vegetable enterprise has enabled us to educate our children and live a decent life. As support from the cooperative, we have received a hand tractor and plastic for building tunnels. The Agri-transport vehicle has also been a great relief to me.” Rawat family has produced 97,032 kgs (about 213918.69 lb) of vegetable and made an income of USD 4,227 last year. Bishnu is confident that their family enterprise will thrive with support from the cooperative.
With the cooperative’s efforts 55 out of its 487 members are involved in commercial vegetable farming and are generating a good living income from it. The cooperative hopes to increase this number in the future.