Ground apple farmers upset with slow salesGround apple farmers in Udaypur district are regretting growing the fruit as there are no buyers, and their crops are rotting in the fields or are being used to produce alcohol.
Ground apple farmers in Udaypur district are regretting growing the fruit as there are no buyers, and their crops are rotting in the fields or are being used to produce alcohol.
Ground apple, which is a tuberous root, is grown at high altitudes with a cold climate in various parts of the country. The fruit is known for its medicinal value, and is generally consumed by diabetic patients and people with high blood pressure. Demand for this agricultural product is quite high in some parts of eastern Nepal.
Five years ago, farmers in Rautamai and Sunkoshi rural municipalities switched to growing ground apple considering its health benefits and high demand.
Today, each farmer in Rautamai and Sunkoshi produces 500 kg to 5,000 kg of ground apple annually. But most of their crops are rotting in field, turned into alcohol or fed to animals.
Farmers in the district received training on growing the tuberous root in Ilam. The District Agricultural Office Udaypur and various non-governmental organisations encouraged the farmers to cultivate ground apples. After they started producing the fruit commercially, these organisations did not provide any help to find markets.
Ground apple farmers in Udaypur are discouraged by lack of transportation to ship ground apples to market and by the low level of awareness among potential consumers regarding the possible medicinal and health benefits of the tuber.
Farmer Yek Bahadur Magar said, “Representatives of various organisations promised that growing ground apple even on a small acreage farm would bring hundreds of thousands of rupees annually. However, farmers without knowledge of the market potential started cultivating the tuber which is now utilised as cattle fodder or raw material for making liquor.”
Farmers in parts of Rautamai-1 such as Majhkharka, Bhalebas, Yari Khola and Ratane have been cultivating ground apple for the last five years.
Sherjung Karki, a ground apple farmer in Rautamai, said that more than 5,000 kg of the fruits are ready for market. “Lack of knowledge among farmers about market demand and transportation difficulties are the main problems,” said Karki.
Farmers complain that they are not able to ship their produce to market despite good demand in eastern parts of the country like Dharan, Biratnagar and Itahari.
Rudra Karki, ward chairman of Rautamai-1, said, “This tuber fetches a minimum of Rs100 per kg in various markets of the country, but the crops are rotting in the fields.”
Ground apples are produced in around 40 districts in the country. Tarani Khatiwada, managing director of Hesti Kiwi, said, “The tuber is not being exported, but demand is picking up locally.”
Chairman of Rautamai Rural Municipality Gajendra Bahadur Khadka said, “A key reason for the mismatch between production and utilisation is dearth of information among consumers about the health benefits of the tuber.” He added that the rural municipality was taking appropriate measures to help farmers grow the fruit commercially and find a market for their harvests.