Cold stores get cold response from farmersMillions of rupees was spent on constructing the warehouses without conducting a proper assessment and viability study.
Until a few years ago, Nepali farmers left with unsold vegetables and fruits had no option but to dump them. There were no cold stores, and once their produce started to rot, they had to toss them out, resulting in massive losses.
This gave entrepreneurs the idea of building refrigerated warehouses where farmers could store their harvests safely until they could sell them.
And so hundreds of cold stores sprang up across the country, but the irony is that there are few takers. As a result, only a few of these warehouses are doing well, and many have closed down for lack of business.
Experts said building cold stores also became a popular way to get the subsidies that all three tiers of government were dispensing for rural development. Millions of rupees were spent on constructing them without conducting a proper assessment and viability study.
A report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations shows that an estimated 14 percent of the total food produced for human consumption is lost before it reaches the consumer. The loss is higher in poor countries like Nepal because they lack effective refrigeration.
The report shows that sustainable food cold chains could prevent much of this loss and this could go a long way towards alleviating the food crisis.
But dumping vegetables and fruits is still rampant as farmers don’t believe in cold chain operators.
In Morang in the country’s eastern region, half a dozen cold stores have popped up, but not even half of them are functioning properly.
Ram Janaki Cold Store in Biratnagar was built to store 5,000 tonnes of food and vegetables. The warehouse has not been able to use its full capacity. Proprietor Suprim Regmi says farmers do not bring enough products to keep in the store.
“The provincial government has given a 50 percent subsidy on electricity charges. But we don't make enough to even pay the energy bill because there is less business than we had anticipated,” said Regmi.
Another cold store nearby, Ganesh Cold Store, with a capacity of 2,000 tonnes had to shut down right after opening. It could not attract enough customers.
A new warehouse with a capacity to store 5,000 tonnes has been built by the Nepal-India Friendship Society in Rangeli. It hasn’t come into operation yet.
The Koshi provincial government has invested around Rs100 million to build cold stores in response to requests from farmers and cooperatives.
The construction of seven cold stores with a combined capacity of 1,800 tonnes has been completed in Tehrathum, Udaypur, Sunsari, Morang, Bhojpur and Dharan.
Four more cold stores, one each in Ilam, Sunsari, Solukhumbu and Jhapa, are being built.
In addition to subsidies to build the facilities, the provincial government has been aiding the private sector in Barahakshetra and Bakalauri in Sunsari and Tarahara in Itahari. The three cold stores there have a combined capacity of 230 tonnes.
One such facility in Diktel, Khotang, constructed with an investment of Rs9 million, is lying useless.
“The cold store has not been used due to inadequate local farm products,” said Suman Rai, a local farmer in Diktel.
The Bagmati provincial government has been providing subsidies for the construction of cold stores under the slogan “One district, one cold store”.
A 360-tonne cold store in Kamalamai Municipality-4 in Sindhuli has gone out of business. It was constructed 15 years ago at a cost of Rs10 million.
Sweet oranges and potatoes grown in nearby villages were stored in the cold store during the initial two seasons. Since then, it has been shuttered. The cold store operator said they had to shut down because of the high operating costs.
Farmers say they have been having trouble selling their vegetables, sweet oranges and other agricultural products in the off season because the cold store shut down.
“We used to make a handsome earning selling the fruits and vegetables during the off season,” said Nirmal Ramtel, a farmer of Dobhan Tar in Kamalamai Municipality Sindhuli. They could get double the price for their vegetables and fruits during the off season.
“The cold storage facility has been closed now,” said Ramtel. “We don’t know why.”
Nearly half a dozen cold stores were constructed in Sindhupalchok. Now, many projects have been abandoned while some are still under construction.
Four cold stores are already operating in Kavre with private investment, but all of them are not getting good business.
Moti Ram Bhattarai, manager of Jagadamba Cold Store in Panauti Municipality-9, says traders are afraid to purchase local vegetables as imports are cheaper during the off season.
The facility constructed with an investment of Rs120 million is facing problems. “We are not able to cover the operating expenses,” said Bhattarai.
Six cold stores have been constructed in Parbat funded by the Agriculture Knowledge Centre, cooperatives and the federal government. Some are under construction.
These cold stores cost Rs1.5 million to Rs4 million each. But none of them is operating.
Farmers in Jaljala Rural Municipality-1 in Parbat constructed a 15-tonne cold store three years ago with an investment of Rs4 million.
The farmers constructed the cold store, especially to store oranges. But they have not used it since the first year of its operation because some of the oranges stored in the facility decayed, and there were complaints that the taste of the rest of the oranges too had changed.
“We constructed the facility with great excitement. But we couldn't run it,” said Jagat Bahadur Khatri, president of the Bajarmare Orange Farmers Cooperative in Jaljala in Parbat. “We even brought technicians to inspect it, but no one could fix the problem.”
A 10-tonne cold store was made in Kushma Municipality-5 five years ago, funded by the Directorate of Agriculture Development, Gandaki province.
The farmers stored potatoes and oranges in the first year of operation. But they stopped using the facility and their produce decayed.
“We were unable to maintain the temperature. There was no regular electricity supply,” said Raj Babu PC, director of the cold store. “Therefore, it's no longer in use.”
A 3,000-tonne cold store built in Kawaswati-14 in East Nawalparasi with the investment of 350 foreign employment returnees has been out of operation for the last three years.
Lumbini province allocated funds to construct 19 cold storage facilities across the province in the fiscal year 2018-19. Some of them are still under construction. Those who constructed the facilities on time were unable to operate them due to high operating costs.
Two cold stores under construction in Rolpa have been abandoned as the government has not been able to release funds. The government refused to make payment to the contractor after locals complained that the contractor had used substandard materials.
Three cold stores have been constructed in Rupandehi which were funded by the provincial government.
Susan Deep Ice and Cold Store in Kanchanpur, the first cold store in Sudurpaschim province, is closed. The 2,000-tonne cold storage was built with private investment in 2000.
The facility encouraged farmers from Kanchanpur and Kailali to store their vegetables in the initial years. But it is closed now as several other cold stores, with better technology, have opened in nearby districts.
(Binod Bhandari in Morang, Pradip Menyangbo in Sunsari, Dambar Singh Rai in Khotang, Pratap Bista in Hetauda, Raj Kumar Karki in Sindhuli, Anish Tiwari in Sindhupalchok, Jyoti Shrestha in Kavre, Agandhar Tiwari in Parbat, Narayan Sharma in East Nawalparasi, Hariram Upreti in Gorkha, Prakash Baral in Baglung, Ghanashyam Khadka in Myagdi, Samjhana Rasaili in Tanahun, Kashiram Dangi in Rolpa, Sanju Poudel in Rupandehi, Mahesh KC in East Rukum, Manoj Poudel in Kapilvastu, DR Pant in Dhangadhi and Bhawani Bhatta in Kanchanpur contributed reporting.)