We cannot reap benefits from the coffee business unless we start growing it on a large scale and attract the private sector in it
Given its suitable climatic condition, Nepal holds huge potential for coffee farming, especially in the hilly districts. Nepal has been growing Arabia coffee for the last 40 years, mainly in Gulmi, and it has now spread to over 32 hilly districts. But it is still grown on small land holdings, which do not even meet the local demand. Till last year, Nepal produced about 500 tonnes of coffee, some of which was exported to Japan, the USA and some European countries. But there is growing attraction towards commercial coffee farming because of its growing popularity both at home and abroad. According to the “Nepal Commercial Coffee Farming Survey 2017-18”, published by the Central Bureau of Statistics, around 1,573 tonnes of coffee beans were produced across the country, mainly in the 32 districts. Of these districts, Kavre, Lalitpur and Syangja top the list in growing coffee at a commercial level. The farmers in the districts are engaged in commercial coffee farming on around 295 hectares of land combined. Altogether, there are 2,179 commercial coffee farms in the three districts. Nationwide, there are a total of 6,346 coffee farms, employing over 42,000 people in this sector.
The report says that around 1.2 million hectares of land are suitable for commercial coffee cultivation across the country. It also says that about 50 per cent of the farmers are well aware of the government policies and programmes regarding coffee farming. However, they are still practising the traditional methods. So, it is necessary to raise awareness among the farmers and provide them with technical know-how and financial incentives so that they can grow coffee on a commercial scale. Coffee culture is steadily growing in Nepal, especially in the urban centres. In recent times, coffee tourism is also gaining momentum in the villages where it is grown. The National Tea and Coffee Development Board, which is responsible for promoting tea and coffee, has also come up with some strategic plans to give a boost to coffee farming. But it has largely failed to attract the private sector to grow coffee on a commercial scale.
Undoubtedly, there is a huge market for organic coffee within and outside the country. But we have not been able to take advantage of the market for it, thanks to the government’s lackluster approach. How can we expect the coffee business to grow when the government has allocated just Rs 94.8 million for the tea and coffee sector for the upcoming fiscal? Last year, it was around Rs 100 million. We can reap benefits from coffee if we are able to grow it on a large scale and create our own niche in branding and packaging. For this, the government should attract the private sector to make investments in it, which will also create many jobs in the rural areas. Considering its potential, the government should also set up a high-tech research centre that can help transfer knowledge and technology to the coffee growers. Most of the farmers and the private sector are still hesitating to engage in it because the government has only paid lip service to it. We also need to set a fixed price for the coffee beans. The coffee growers should not be facing the same problems being faced by the sugarcane farmers and tea growers.
It’s good to know that the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) is setting up wind turbines to generate two megawatts of energy in Kailali district in far-west Nepal. AEPC, a unit of the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, is to spend Rs 100 million on the project in the coming fiscal year to carry out feasibility study, prepare a detailed report and start its construction. It’s a small project, but one that holds huge potential in different parts of the country with high winds round the year. Initial studies have shown that it will be cheaper to produce energy from wind turbines than from hydel plants.
Nepal is not new to wind energy, with a small project having produced electricity in Mustang even during the partyless Panchayat days. But it was abandoned for want of repairs and maintenance. It is wise to invest in different sources of energy such as solar, wind and biogas and not rely totally on hydropower. Wind energy is now proven technology, with the advanced countries generating part of their energy needs from it. It might also be possible to set up big wind farms at different places of the country with the investment of the private sector, just like solar energy.
A version of this article appears in print on July 04, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.