In an economy struggling to stabilize itself after the devastating earthquakes of 2015, innovative solutions from the younger generation of changemakers brings hope for the future of the Himalayan country. Saurav Dhakal and his Green Growth team are creating waves of positive impact in both local communities and the national food systems, and similar initiatives are sprouting across the foothills of majestic mountain ranges. Scroll down for photos!
A run-down white van comes to pick me up in at the break of dawn in Bakhundol, Kathmandu. Inside, I find Saurav Dhakal and two younger students who are coming with us to assess the opportunities for a permaculture project. We are headed to Patale Gau, South-East of Kathmandu Valley. In an effort to find quality, pesticide-free vegetables in Nepal, I have finally found Green Growth Group - a newly established initiative which combines traditional artisan farming with innovative technology to deliver fresh vegetables to a hungry market. By registering on the Green Growth website, you get a weekly call and can choose from a large variety of products delivered in a basket on your doorstep. Apples from Mustang, sweet oranges from Sindhuli, walnuts from Jumla - all organic.
We arrive at the farm in less than an hour, and are greeted by Dinesh and Govinda, who are managing the project on site. On a clear day, you can see the whole Everest mountain chain to the North of the land. From where I am standing, I can see ginger plants, ground apples, lopsi fruit trees, turmeric, and a large herb garden with lemongrass, stevia, mint, rosemary, and menthol.. The list grows as we explore the gardens. 25 years ago a German named Hans Hoffer started a farm in the area called Organic Himalayan, and taught the local community about organic farming and permaculture techniques. Although the venture closed some years ago, the knowledge is still alive, and the Patale Gau farm today functions as a vibrant learning ground for best practices.
Challenging the profit-oriented focus of Nepal's current business environment, Saurav wants to redefine the way we think about capital in today's society. He believes that the new goal for the youth of Nepal should be to increase the quality of life, and focusing on natural capital, community-building and economic democracy.
Saurav has a background from Nepal's media scene. After walking the Great Himalayan Trail some years back, he was tired of writing superficial stories about politics and entertainment, and felt a need to adjust his inner moral compass. He realized that his greatest privilege as a journalist was being able to give a voice to things that really mattered. This resulted in StoryCycle, a google-supported storytelling initiative which highlights contemporary issues facing the emerging generation, and geotags the stories to root them in the respective communities. About Green Growth he says, "It is not a food business, it is a story business. The only difference is that the story can now be consumed. The food we eat also has a tale worth telling."
Using online platforms and mobile technology, the Green Growth team is locating organic farms, gathering data on production, producer and consumer communication, listing products and their stories, sharing the narratives on social media, and organizing orders and deliveries of the organic produce. Today, the company has 145 subscribers to the Weekly Vegetable Basket in the Kathmandu valley, and the number is growing by the day. They have also expanded from vegetables and fruits, to teas, brandy, marmalade, and are experimenting new products like coffee plants in some of the associated farms. They charge 20% from the farmers to sustain the venture, and are also responsible for transport, marketing and distribution.
It is a win-win. The initiative is also inspiring for the local communities, who gain a new respect for the work and craftsmanship they are involved in, and a deeper relationship to their produce. "Our intention is to manage the supply chain of organic foods and other systems associated with sustainability with respect to the producers and farm owners", says Saurav. "With this system we are encouraging organic farming with respect for the peasants, by providing them with a fair price for their product".
With the innovative combination of organic farming, creative value chain management, community ownership and mobile technology, the Green Growth model stands out as a solution that could have a positive impact towards authentic systems-change in Nepal. The story-element of the process also gives a much needed voice the nature of Nepal, which is undergoing extreme challenges in the midst of earthquakes and climate change. The idea is now being cross-pollinated across the country, and new seeds continue to be planted..
"We are continuously experimenting with new solutions", says Saurav. "We are currently looking into establishing a nursery for trees in a villages where there are a lot of migrant workers. The workers are not able to maintain large agricultural projects, but a tree can be planted and bear fruit within the three years it takes for them to come back. You know, I have always loved this Chinese proverb - a good time to plant a tree was twenty years ago and the best time is now."