Amidst all the challenges faced at a young age, Ms. Palina Rai left everything behind and came to Kathmandu with the hope to restart her life. This led her to embark on a new interest to travel and learn about herself. After visiting several villages, she discovered a new Nepali food palate altogether. Although these food products have been there for generations, in cities, people rarely remember or make them. Hence, she decided to collect different organic products from independent farmers of the country, specially Taplejung, and find a market for such products. Boju Store was started in September 2020.
Read our conversation with Ms. Rai to find out more about this interesting business.
Tell me about your motivation to start your own enterprise?
I did have the interest to start my own business from early on. After becoming a mother, my initial plan was to open a store related to kid’s clothing. However, my travel experiences led me to a different path of starting this enterprise.
What is the inspiration behind the name of your company?
Boju means grandmother in Kirat culture. When I started traveling to different districts, I met several independent farmers working in fields and making traditional food. I was excited to see such unique produce in Nepal, yet there was no market for them. Since my products are all made by Bajes (grandfather) and Bojus (grandmother) of the villages, I wanted to honor them with this name. I wanted my venture’s name to represent both my community and females, that is how I named it Boju Store.
What are your products?
We have a variety of products, while we also get some products based on specific pre-orders. One of our popular products is Kinema, which is basically fermented soybean. It is a popular food among Rai, Limbu, and overall Mongolian tribes. Another popular product that has high demand in the market is mad honey (hallucinogen honey). Other than this, we also sell Yangben, Ilam chocolate, achars, ghee, rice, beans, lentils, etc.
How do you source this variety of products from different districts?
Most of our products come from Eastern Nepal. We commonly source it from districts like Ilam, Taplejung, Humla, Surkhet, Panchthar, etc. For Kinema, we usually get that based on pre-orders. For other products, we have built good relationships with local people, so some do send it based on phone calls. As some places have difficult topography, I personally visit the villages to buy products.
Who is your target market?
Kinema and Yangben (Edible Lichen) are both ethnic foods for Rai and Limbu communities. Yangben is also very difficult to harvest. As such foods are harvested less, the consumption also starts to slowly decline. So, I believe my initial target market is people from my community who are forgetting their ethnic food. In the future, I do want people from all over the world to learn about my culture.
What have the market demands been like?
I initially started with an expectation to revive the disappearing cultural foods specific to my community. But, it was astonishing to witness demands from different communities who had previously heard and tried these products. We get demands from a diverse group of people. Sometimes, we do feel like we are yet to reach more people from our own community. Additionally, people who are living abroad also order our products like Yangben, mad honey, kinema, Ilam chocolate, etc. through their families in Nepal.
What were the main challenges to open a venture during COVID-19?
I believe that everything is challenging when starting something new. One specific challenge that I faced is sourcing the products from villages. It becomes challenging to make people realize that they can earn money by selling it through our store. Many farmers in villages have always focused on consumption rather than sustainable agriculture. So, they do not produce a lot despite the demand as it is very new to them.
Where can the customers find your products?
We are available every Saturday at Utpala Cafe’s Farmers market. Customers can come and visit our stall to see our products and buy them. We are also available through Facebook and Instagram. Our potential customers can pre-order different regional products not mentioned on our pages. We supply products based on demand as well.
How has this journey as an entrepreneur been so far for you?
It is an utterly new experience for me. However, I am really enjoying it. I would not deny the hurdles and challenges that an entrepreneur has to face each day, but I am extremely glad to be discovering myself through this experience.
Is there any suggestion you would like to give to emerging social entrepreneurs?
Being a violence survivor and single mother, I started this venture with no external support. All I had was this vision to help farmers in our villages with the locally available produces. If someone like me can take the next step to establish a small business, I believe anyone can. In the initial phase, there will always be a fear of failure. Nevertheless, just holding on to the fear, without taking the necessary steps will be your greatest failure. I believe a single step towards your goal can also make a large difference.
Want to try traditional and healthy Nepali food products while promoting sustainable agriculture? Order products from Boju Store now!
Facebook: Boju Store
Interviewed and Article by Shreeya Bhattarai