Instead of letting veggies rot, this trader is delivering it to the needy for freeArjun Dhungana, a wholesaler at Balkhu vegetable market, finds happiness in putting vegetables on the plates of the needy.
On Friday morning at the Balkhu wholesale market, a handful of retailers were negotiating prices for vegetables.
It was in this once bustling market that tonnes of vegetables from around the country changed hands and found their way to homes across the Kathmandu Valley.
But following the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the contagious coronavirus, visitors can count the number of people at the market on their fingers. Arjun Dhungana, 27, is one of them.
“I don’t want these vegetables to rot,” said Dhungana, who owns shop number 61 at the market run by Surya Subha Shree Agro Private Ltd. “I am selling vegetables to people at very low prices,” said Dhungana as he prepared two kg packs of vegetables and delicately placed them in plastic baskets. His cousin, Sujan Subedi, 23, carried a basket to a van parked behind his shop.
According to the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Management Committee, demand for vegetables has gone down by 50 percent in Kathmandu as hotels, restaurants and hostels have been shut due to the nationwide lockdown. Thousands of people have also returned to their villages. But vegetables trucks continue to come to Kathmandu as wholesalers don’t want to irk farmers who are their long-term business partners.
Wholesalers, who buy in bulk to sell to retailers dotted across the city, have been forced to dump vegetables that remain unsold. To address the problem, the Balkhu Vegetable Market deployed around two dozen people, including Dhungana to sell vegetables at minimum prices.
Dhungana does not charge more than Rs 25 per kilogram for any vegetable ranging from cauliflowers to cabbage and beans to tomatoes. But that’s not it, Dhungana doesn’t charge people who can’t afford his vegetables. “I provide free vegetables to squatter settlements in Gongabu and Thapathali,” he said. “I also supply vegetables to elderly homes and orphanages in the Valley for free.”
The service he has been providing has earned him a lot of admirers such as Nikhil Ankit, 37, a resident of the Gongabu squatters' settlement who has been out of work for over three weeks. “This is great relief for us,” said the mason.
Dhungana, who set up his shop in 2015 after returning from Saudi Arabia, began his drive three weeks ago. “For the past one week, we have been sending 20 vans to different parts of town to sell vegetables at lower prices,” said Dhungana.
Although the government provides rice and lentils to people who can’t afford to buy food, it does not provide fresh vegetables. “We need to register our names to get relief from the government. But the government does not provide us vegetables. Dhungana is helping us a lot as we don’t not have the money to buy vegetables,” said Ankit.
Mohan Basnet, chairperson of Surya Subha Shree, also appreciated Dhungana’s work. “Many retailers who buy vegetables from Balkhu and Kalimati sell them at a price four times more than the actual price,” said Basnet.
“Dhungana is serving the needy,” said Basnet. He said that inspired by Dhungana, the Balkhu market has started providing free vegetables to over 25 organisations such as orphanages, elderly homes and organisations that provide free food for the poor.
Kalimati vegetable market, the other big market for veggies in the city, opened on Wednesday after being closed for a week.
When this reporter visited Kalimati, all wholesale shops were almost empty.
“Many of the retailers who sell vegetables in the market have already gone home,” said Binaya Shrestha, deputy director at Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market, which has over 800 wholsale shops.
“Those who want to buy vegetables can’t come here due to the lockdown. That is why we have vegetables, but can’t supply them to consumers,” Shrestha added.
Shrestha said that Kalimati cannot follow in the footsteps of Balkhu as it was not privately-run. “The markets in Balku are privately run, so they can do what they want, but we do not have that provision. The vegetables that rot will be dumped,” said Shrestha.
Meanwhile, at the Balkhu market, Dhungana was ready to head out for the day. “This is a difficult time," he said. "I am concerned about helping people in need. This keeps me happy."