Commercial fruit farming thrives in MyagdiFarmers in the district earned Rs220 million by selling 3,690 tonnes of oranges in the last fiscal year, officials said.
Resham Budathoki of Mangala Rural Municipality sold 45,000 fruit saplings valued at Rs2 million from his Baranja Nursery in the last fiscal year. His customers came from Myagdi, Baglung and Kaski, and they bought orange, lemon, timmur (Sichuan pepper) and walnut saplings.
“After deducting my expenses, I made a profit of Rs700,000,” said Budathoki. “I am happy with my business.”
Nursery plants are susceptible to short- and long-term diseases. But Budathoki is not worried. He has experts from the Directorate of Agricultural Research in Lumle, Kaski conduct the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the most widely used nucleo-based method to detect plant viruses, on his saplings.
“The plants from my nursery are a bit expensive because I only sell healthy ones,” he said.
Man Kumari Pun of Beni Municipality-5 has a nursery and an orange grove. In the last fiscal year, she earned around Rs400,000 by selling orange and lemon saplings from her Arati Nursery. She made another Rs800,000 by selling oranges from her grove.
“I started as an orange farmer and gradually learnt to grow saplings,” said Pun. “The nursery gives attractive returns from a small investment.”
With the income from the nursery, Pun has been able to send her children to an English-medium school.
Other farmers in Annapurna Rural Municipality also made good money by selling fruit saplings. Sales usually go up during the monsoon in June-July.
In the last fiscal year, six local governments in Myagdi district distributed 21,195 orange saplings, 4,315 lemon saplings, 6,600 kiwi saplings, 3,800 walnut saplings, 300 grape saplings, 200 pear saplings and 60 mango saplings to local farmers.
The farmers grow the saplings usually from seeds or by grafting.
The saplings grown in the greenhouse from seeds are priced at Rs25 each and the saplings produced by grafting cost Rs55 to Rs65 each.
In addition to fruit saplings, the farmers also grow seasonal vegetable saplings such as cucumber, cauliflower and chilli which are in high demand in the local market.
“A farmer can earn up to Rs7,000 monthly by selling saplings grown in a 50 square-foot greenhouse nursery,” said Manoj Khadka, a farmer of Beni Municipality-5.
“People have started terrace farming these days, which has also increased demand for vegetable seedlings.”
But the farmers say middlemen and bureaucrats are giving them a difficult time.
“Middlemen and bureaucrats ask for undue benefit and commission on sales,” said Jog Bahadur BK, proprietor of Suman Agro Nursery at Dana, Annapurna Rural Municipality-3.
“If we don’t accept their terms and conditions, the plants remain unsold in the nursery.”
The farmers complain that they are compelled to sell the plants to their retail customers at a high price to cover these extra costs. They fear that they might not get any purchase orders the next time if they complain about this misconduct.
“The local governments too are engulfed in corruption,” said BK.
At the start of every fiscal year, the local governments call for tenders for plants to distribute to local farmers.
The farmers say that middlemen buy the saplings cheaply from the nurseries and bid for the government contracts for a high price.
“We farmers don't know about government tenders. The middlemen have influence in the local bodies and they make most of the money,” said BK.
“We had hoped that we would get subsidies and other technical help from the local governments, but instead we only get visits from middlemen,” said farmer Tejendra Thapa.
There are 12 registered nurseries in the district which mainly produce fruit saplings like orange, lemon, walnut, kiwi, litchi and mango.
The history of nurseries in the district dates from the early 1970s when an ex-serviceman Tek Bahadur Pun opened the first nursery here. It is no longer in existence.
In 1986, a government nursery was also established in the district to produce lemon and orange saplings.
The nursery was used to distribute fruit saplings to nearby farmers, and this helped orange farming flourish in villages such as Rakhu, Ghar, Tatopani and Dana. But this also closed down after the restoration of democracy in the 1990s.
In the same year, Dhan Bahadur Roka of Bhakimli in Beni Municipality-3 started the first commercial orange farming in the district.
Private nurseries in the district really prospered after the then Agriculture Development Office began providing training to local farmers in 2003.
“Due to the efforts of different government bodies related to agriculture and private nurseries, local farmers are being drawn to commercial fruit farming,” said Bhog Bahadur Thapa, a retired agriculture technician.
According to the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Myagdi, the farmers and cooperatives in the district earned around Rs220 million by selling 3,690 tonnes of oranges in the last fiscal year.
Orange farming is done on around 3,777 hectares in the district, said the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernisation Project in Myagdi.
The villages along the Myagdi Khola, Raghu Ganga and Kali Gandaki corridors possess a suitable climate for orange farming.
The villages in Beni Municipality, Annapurna Rural Municipality, Raghu Ganga Rural Municipality, Mangala Rural Municipality and Malika Rural Municipality have been declared an orange superzone by the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernisation Project in Myagdi.
“In order to increase the production of oranges in the district, we are providing training, subsidies and technical support to farmers,” said Rupa BK, deputy technician at the project. “If everything goes well, we expect to produce at least 5,000 tonnes of oranges in the next season.”