Ginger farmers face hard times after market crashesProduction has plunged by 95 percent in Palpa district which is famed for the spice.
The years 1999 to 2008 were a golden age for ginger farmers in Palpa district in central Nepal.
Farmers who grew the spice used to earn up to Rs1.5 million annually then, the amount would be considerably higher in today's rupees. Ginger was the main cash crop for many farmers.
Tara Karki of Ribdikot Rural Municipality-7, who harvested 400 kg of ginger last year, remembers how Indian traders would turn up at the farmers' homes to buy the root which is prized as a spice and antioxidant.
Demand for ginger was so high that Indian traders used to offer Rs5 per kg extra to the farmers.
But prices started falling. And by 2020, the price of ginger had crashed, largely due to travel restrictions, leaving hundreds of farmers worried.
"The traders are not coming anymore,” said Karki. “Ginger has no value. None at all.”
Karki is worried that her ginger crop will rot in the fields. She had purchased 2.5 kg of ginger seeds at the subsidised price of Rs200.
Karki was forced to sell her old ginger stocks for Rs60 per kg. Freshly harvested ginger fetches Rs50 per kg. But most farmers have left their ginger crops in the fields as there are no buyers.
Karki’s neighbour Kopila Thapa Kunwar has grown 350 ginger plants but she has not harvested them.
"There is no value of ginger in the market," Kunwar said. “It's already time to plant next year's ginger crop. I do not know what to do. I am thinking of quitting ginger farming.”
An uncertain market and fluctuating prices has spread concern among ginger growers in Palpa, one of the key ginger producing areas in Nepal.
Farmers like Karki blame the government for not encouraging the farm sector and providing access to market. For some years, many NGOs helped the farmers to grow ginger, but they too have disappeared, they say.
Palung Mainadi, Thimure, Mujung, Kusumkhola and Bhairavsthan are the key ginger pocket areas in the district.
Most farmers stopped planting ginger after 2015. A few farmers began cultivating the spice plant after getting subsidised seeds from the local government. Now they say they made the wrong decision.
Production has plunged by 95 percent in the district which is famous for its ginger.
The Local Initiative Support Programme and the Rural Economic Development Association (REDA) initially helped farmers to grow and market ginger. At that time, output had swelled up to 23,000 tonnes annually. The district used to earn Rs260 million annually from ginger.
"Today's production is hardly 10 percent of that," said Lila Bahadur Karki, executive director of REDA. “This happened because of market uncertainty.”
As a result, farmers are switching to other crops.
"Palpa used to record a large turnover from its ginger production. It’s all gone now," said Jeevan Kunwar, a local farmer. He said that Nepal’s dependency on the Indian market had hurt ginger production and sales.
Ginger worth Rs10 million used to be sold annually from the Bhairavsthan area alone.
"Once, I sent 50 truckloads of ginger to India from the depot in my area," said Tul Bahadur Adhikari, a senior farmer in Bhairavsthan. “Now, there is not even a tractor coming to take the farmers' crops.”
Adhikari said some quantity of ginger is sold in the haat bazaar, a weekly market in Butwal and Tansen. Indian traders have stopped buying ginger, he said. "Exports to India, which is a key market for Nepali products, have virtually stopped," he said. “This is an important issue the government needs to consider.”
More than 98 percent of Nepali ginger is shipped to the southern neighbour. Ginger root is mostly used by the Ayurveda pharmaceutical industry, particularly in India. It is also used to make jam, jelly, candy and sauce, among other products.
The statistics of the Trade and Export Promotion Centre shows that ginger exports soared by 162.49 percent year-on-year to 62,843 tonnes in fiscal 2012-13.
Nepali ginger has not been able to get better prices due to the soil content and dirty look. India has been selling Nepali ginger at more than double the price by enhancing its quality, experts say.
Adhikari said he even produced juice, powder, candy and pickles from ginger. But with the drop in demand in the market, he was forced to shut down his factory.
Adhikari, who is also director of Bhairav Ginger Processing Industry, said there should be a proper government policy to boost production. “Farm policy should be in the interest of farmers.”
Thousands of farmers are in trouble due to lack of proper policy for the development of ginger production and export. The government has not been able to fix the minimum support price of cash crops like ginger as it does for paddy, coffee and tea.
Agronomist Thaman Bahadur Karki said that Nepal has the best soil, red and yellow soil, which is considered good for ginger. "Because of the soil, the yield is also good," he said.
Until one and a half decades ago, ginger was cultivated on 1,300 hectares in Palpa district. Now, the acreage has shrunk by 90 percent.
Krishna Bahadur GC, president of the Ginger Production Cooperative Association, said ginger production was down due to a volatile market.
Karki of REDA said the scope of Nepali ginger was limited as it was exported only to the Indian market.
He said that farmers would benefit more only if they processed the ginger and prepared different types of products like powder, candy, juice and pickle.
Talk about commercialising ginger has been going on since 1999. Karki claimed that REDA had played an important role in commercialising the ginger market which was confined to the villages.
The Palpa Chamber of Commerce and Industry has included ginger in the One Village, One Product programme as part of the initiative to promote the cash crop.
“But the programme failed due to lack of market management, '' said Krishna Thapa, a trader from Batase. "Farmers are still interested in growing ginger if they can be sure about the market.”
There were 6,140 ginger farmers in 148 farmer groups in the district.
They say that the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in the district, the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project, local level and non-governmental organisations should look for new markets instead of distributing subsidised seeds.
Currently, under the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project, the government is supporting ginger and turmeric farms in Palpa with an annual budget of Rs8 million.
"There are ginger zones in all wards of Nisdi Rural Municipality, Rampur Municipality, Purbakhola and some wards of Bagnaskali Rural Municipality," said Deepak Bhattarai, senior agriculture development officer at the project office.
“We have planned to process ginger from next year and make powder and oil for export,” he said.