Encouraging entrepreneurship in the hinterlandsAuthorities need to invest in education to produce trained junior technical assistants.
Six years ago, pig farmer Bhim Luitel started out with 27 pigs and a Rs400,000 investment. The agro entrepreneur from Waling, Syangja now has more than 400 hogs, and his farm is valued at nearly Rs50 million. A great success story, no doubt, but at one point Luitel had been thrown into despair when his newborn piglets and even those still in the womb began dying for lack of Vitamin A, and he lost a lot of money. Rescue came in the form of low-cost Vitamin A injections from India, which worked wonders when no veterinary doctor or technical expert could determine the cause of the trouble.
Luitel owns a flourishing pig farm and slaughterhouse, and he is one of the many entrepreneurs in the hinterlands who have struggled against great odds to get to where they are today. He is already thinking of expanding his business to serve four neighbouring districts, and export pigs to China too. His story is representative of Nepali agro entrepreneurs in the hills who face regular hardships like difficulties in securing investment, lack of a sustainable supply chain ecosystem and lack of laboratories, medicines and technical support. Alongside these entrepreneurs, there are also those who exhibit a parasitic attitude and seek subsidies to run their businesses without looking at the possibilities and alternative avenues to make their operations viable and sustainable.
The existing policy gaps make it difficult for most agro entrepreneurs in the hinterlands to run their businesses. Entrepreneurs from rural parts neither own property nor land with any kind of road access which can be used as collateral. This adds to their woes as banks refuse to provide them with loans. Apart from this, the non-availability of junior technical assistants (JTA) locally exacerbates their problems and entrepreneurs have to go as far as India to consult entrepreneurs and find solutions.
There are 33 entrepreneurs in Waling Municipality who are engaged in cow and buffalo farming and the milk is utilised solely for consumption. It is unfortunate that there are no industrial units in the vicinity to process the milk to make cheese, butter, ice-cream and other dairy products. They also lack knowledge about coming up with value-added products for utilising the excess production. They end up incurring losses as the non-availability of feed locally for their cows and buffaloes forces them to get it from the Tarai. The inability of their livestock to give enough milk due to changes in the temperature and other climatic conditions makes the farmers more disappointed.
Entrepreneurs in the hinterlands also complain about the absence of an organised market locally where they can sell their output. Usually, all sorts of vegetables, meat and poultry are sold in the same market. This is an inconvenient practice that guarantees no safety for their produce. The non-availability of collection centres for vegetables makes the market ill-organised too. Rough terrain and lack of proper logistical support make transportation of the produce difficult. Agro entrepreneurs also face threats from wild animals that damage their standing crops. Localised efforts to ward off monkeys using sounds of pistol shots proved fruitful only temporarily till they became used to it.
On the brighter side, there are examples of local youths who are engaged in clothing and weaving businesses. Unfortunately, there is no supporting ecosystem that has all the backward and forward linkages in place. A business unit producing sweaters and mufflers by employing local women has to procure the necessary equipment and raw materials like weaving machines, thread, wool and buttons all the way from Kathmandu. Marketing and branding can undoubtedly be cited as one of the major things that are visibly missing for all entrepreneurs. Catering to local needs, most farmers keep their agro ventures small. They don’t have knowledge about the market potential nor do they know how to reap benefits by scaling them up or going for diversification. They need to be sensitised about branding as fresh organic produce can fetch higher prices.
Entrepreneurs also complain about cheap and inferior products coming from India. Most often, such substandard low-cost products are seen being sold at the local ‘haat bazaar’. A dearth of human resources in rural regions remains a daunting concern as youths choose to go abroad in search of greener pastures than take up farming, which they consider to be an unattractive proposition. Finally, information asymmetry issues regarding the right market for their produce have discouraged farmers from producing and selling more.
What is the way out?
The time is now to invest in technical education to produce trained local JTAs rather than doling out cash to support entrepreneurs once in a while through some local non-governmental organisations. Such educated and trained personnel would be readily available to the neighbourhood farmers whenever they are in trouble and need their services. Subsidies in the form of low-cost feed sold from representative offices of the government would benefit the farmers. Having a national policy on entrepreneurship that can support farmers with regard to identifying markets and setting up the external linkages. Developing the right mindset and attitude among aspiring entrepreneurs is of utmost priority at the moment.
Local governments can assume the responsibility of identifying and fixing a place for setting up local markets that can operate in a more organised fashion. This will also require better logistics and transportation facilities like cooling centres, laboratories, medicines and agri-ambulances. The creation of an entrepreneurial eco-system entails the development of an entrepreneurial mindset as a necessary condition. This should be inculcated at the very basic school level by teaching students about local success stories that will make them consider agriculture as a potential occupation.
Breaking the myths and stereotypes that farming is a lowly placed job becomes paramount. Students and youths of the modern generation that find no charm in entrepreneurial ventures need to be introduced to the concepts of entrepreneurship in the very early days of their education. Including entrepreneurship in the curriculum is a step in the right direction and may set the tone for taking it up as a career. It would be good if policymakers thought along these lines.