If you think that all farms in Nepal run on the full organic model then you’re wrong. Read the full story about this only 100% certified organic farm in Nepal.
A sixty-five years old man, Mr. Prem Bahadur Lama says he would have been long gone if it had not been for the organic products from his own farm. Currently, he runs the only 100% certified organic farm in Nepal. He is also the man behind Farmer’s Market here in Kathmandu. Ashapuri Organic Farm, established in 2007, has been serving us with varieties of organic fruits and vegetables certified as 100% organic.
Let us see what Mr. Lama has to say about Ashapuri Organic Farm’s venture.
1. What is the social problem that you are trying to solve?
I was a student of economics, and agriculture was never my cup of tea but you never know what life has in store for you. When I was fifty, I got badly sick. My immune system stopped working at that time. I could not eat anything as everything was grown using pesticides and chemicals. That was when I started growing organic products, not as a business but for my own survival. After a year of consuming organic products from my own farm, my health started to become better. Hence, I then started this as a business so that people could have organic products and live a healthy, prosperous life.
2. Can you see the change your product has brought into society?
Yes, of course. When I started out, people were negligent about their health. They did not care about the number of pesticides and chemicals loaded in their food but now, people have become health conscious and come looking for organic food.
3. What is the legal status of your company?
Twelve years ago, Ashapuri Organic Farm was registered as a private organization but now I also work with community and government.
4. Which stage do you think your company is in right now?
Well, it is a little bigger than before. Right now, I have five farms in different districts producing wide varieties of products due to the ever-growing demand for organic products. Moreover, I have also started working with the farmers but this is not sufficient. So yes, we are growing.
5. What was your employee strength when you first started out and how is it right now?
There were not many employees when we started out. One, two…five, six…and it is increasing. Right now, I have around 150 staff and more than 4500 farmers working in different farms in different districts of Nepal.
6. What challenges did you face while starting Ashapuri Organic Farm and what are the challenges that still prevail?
One of the major problems of the agricultural sector is that youngsters do not enter this field. They are more inclined towards foreign employment, which I think is terrible. Therefore, there is always this challenge of having sufficient labor for agriculture. After the earthquake, the labor cost has also skyrocketed and the country is still in a construction stage. There is also not much profit so it is hard to get stability in this sector. But obviously, challenges are always going to be there, all we have to do is be patient and tackle it.
7. Can you talk to us about your operating profit?
Well, no profit, no business. But I have never been a profit-minded person. I do not think Arabs and crores are the necessities. Profit enough to suffice is sufficient for me. And as I already said, it is not that big but yes, enough for the operation of the organization.
8. What do you think is the market potential of organic farms?
Nepal itself is a big market for organic agricultural products but we import most of the agricultural products every day which is cheaper in comparison to the organic production of the country. If we can replace that market then yes, the market potential is quite good here in Nepal. Moreover, with high-quality production, organic agricultural products can be exported to any part of the world, as in the present context people are more focused on their health. Hence, the market is very big.
9. Can you give us an estimation of your investment to date?
Hmm, I think around ten crores.
10. How did you overcome all your challenges?
I think the problems are always going to be there. I was almost on the verge of dying due to my sickness and money does not mean a lot to me. There are things far more important than money and therefore, earning high profit has never been my motive. I just think we need not worry about problems, it comes and goes.
11. Who are your products targeted to?
For the first five-ten years, it was only foreigners. But after I started Farmer’s Market and brought it to 1905 at Kantipath, around one percent of Nepalese could be seen as our customers and it has been around two years that the percentage of Nepalese customers has hiked up. Right now, ninety percent of our customers are Nepalese while only ten percent of them are foreigners. So yes, I guess our products are targeted to everyone.
12. How many customers do you have on a monthly basis?
Many-many customers. During the initial stage, there were few people, around 500 people like me with health issues, who were deeply in search of organic products. But now, there are many customers.
13. What do you think are the key needs of your company?
There are a lot of needs depending on what we plan to do. If we want to expand, the economic needs are always going to be there. Since I recently changed the pattern of agricultural production with the PPC (Public-Private Alliance), I now need not worry about human resources and investment. So hopefully, the cost of production, the problem of market and labor will be solved slowly. But doing all these tasks personally is not possible now, due to the increased demand. There is going to be the needs for everything, increasing the cost of production and making it harder for the company’s survival. I have tried out many ways for the expansion and faced many challenges but the only suitable way was changing the pattern to PPC.
14. Do you have any further plans for your company?
Yes, I certainly do which is why I reached out to the community (PPC). One of the many problems in Nepal is also finding investments. Many banks do not provide loans for investment. It is not easy to invest in large companies. But with the PPC, everything is easier. Hopefully, we will be able to open up farms all over the nation and contribute to the organic agriculture field of the nation and also export tons and tons of vegetables and fruits.
15. Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
Yes, sure. I have also been awarded the 14th Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneur Award and was recognized as a social entrepreneur.
For more information about this company, check out their website- Ashapuri Organic Farm or email Prem Lama at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviewed and Article by Ashmita Rai