Ms. Lama came to Kathmandu from Humla in 2010. Her home Humla is a prime spot for tourists as it borders Mt. Kailash. Tourism provided jobs to local people along with the usage of locally produced agricultural products. However, due to the pandemic, the situation has been critical in the region. The locals cannot send their products to other major cities due to poor transport system while they cannot store it for a long time due to poor market reach. Seeing such a condition at home, Ms. Lama decided to do something for her community by establishing Karnali Direct in October 2020.
Read our conversation to learn more about this initiative to support local farmers from remote villages.
Tell me about your motivation to start your own enterprise?
Personally, I always used to wonder how I can help the women in my community after being raised in the same situation. Most women in the Karnali region are involved in subsistence agriculture. I am one of the few people from my community who have received proper education in Kathmandu. Hence, I used to brainstorm ideas from very early on. Although there were several companies selling products from the region, there was a less visible impact on the lives of farmers. Hence, as farmers mentioned that due to the pandemic, more products are destroyed and they have no avenues to sell them, I got the motivation to solve this issue.
What is the inspiration behind the name of your business?
Karnali Direct represents the process of bringing products directly from farmers to consumers without other intermediaries. I didn’t want to limit our supplies to my own district in Karnali but rather focus on the entire region of Karnali because of the lack of opportunities and wastage of food products due to less accessibility to the roadways and market.
Can you tell me more about the company?
The main aim of Karnali Direct is women empowerment and leadership in the remote region of Karnali and providing the market to their organic produces in the bigger cities of Nepal. The major districts covered by Karnali Direct are Humla, Dolpa, Jumla, Mugu, and Kalikot. We support the farmers in the production and storage of the product by training them with the help of agricultural technicians. After the harvest, we connect the farmer’s products to the consumers in different cities of Nepal. Most products are transferred to Kathmandu via air transport.
We usually have one harvest season around October and November. We have storehouses in each district’s capital and the main storehouse in Kathmandu. Due to the long preservation cycle, we provide high importance to quality control and inspection. Our packaging happens in Kathmandu in which we use environmentally friendly techniques rather than plastic.
What are the products currently being offered?
The main products that we offer are Marshi rice, Chino Chamal (Proso Millet), walnuts, white honey, beans, seasonal fruits, apricot oil, and walnut oil
Who are your allies in running the business?
Our major allies in running the business are our farmers from several villages in Karnali. We have 3 people in Jumla, 6 people in Dolpa, and many others who support us by collecting products from farmers and transporting them to Kathmandu. In Humla, we collect products from around 13 villages. Hence, we are slowly growing our network of villages. Additionally, two major allies in Kathmandu are Manang Direct and Kar.ma Coffee.
Who is your target market?
The target market is people who are health conscious and want organic food. We have products that are good for diabetic people with low sugar content. Hence, health-conscious consumers are our target market.
What were the main challenges in starting this venture?
There were a few challenges as we deal with the agriculture industry. Firstly, our harvest happens in only one season. So, the difficulties of storage and preservation of the food products were high. We tried to adopt techniques from both modern and traditional ways to store our harvested products. Secondly, financial capital for a start-up is also challenging as some products are expensive compared to others and require higher investment. Lastly, the transportation system isn’t developed so products must be transported by airplane. Hence, transportation is also affected during the monsoon which influences the availability of our products in Kathmandu.
How do you deal with competition?
The market for organic local crops has been saturated for several years. There is intense competition among companies that also bring products from this region especially from Jumla and Mugu. However, I see it as a good thing since we are supporting our local community and providing them a broader market. I have also discussed with other suppliers about pricing and tried to keep it similar for the consumers. Despite the competition, I believe that we all have our own unique style and market. I don’t see it as a threat.
Where can the customers find your products?
We have a store together with The HUB by Kar.ma Coffee and Manang Direct in Boudha. We also sell our products through Kar.ma Coffee in Gyanmandala. In addition, we are also getting several orders from our Facebook and Instagram pages.
What are your future plans for this enterprise?
Our current focus is to support the farmers in the production and distribution process. However, in the future, we aim to build capacity, introduce new technology and provide relevant skills for better production of products. Additionally, we also are constantly working to create a change in local attitude towards the importance of their agricultural product. Lastly, we also want to address the issue of climate change in agriculture by creating awareness and providing skills to mitigate this issue.
How has this entrepreneurial journey been so far for you?
Being an entrepreneur isn’t an easy job. It involves a lot of stress. However, I am happy. It feels proud to see your venture grow and the appreciation by many consumers.
Is there any additional suggestion you would like to give to other emerging entrepreneurs?
If you have a business idea, you must not be fearful. Risk is inevitable. Despite our educational background or in-depth research, the process of running your business, in reality, is always different than what we read. It takes a lot of willpower to operate a business. In addition, there are several similar ideas in the market, but you can always differentiate based on your own unique process of operation and delivery of the same concept. Everyone learns along the way and through the same process, you will find ways to improve.
Do you want to buy organic products while encouraging farmers from remote villages of Nepal? Order now!
Instagram: Karnali Direct