Nepal vegetable market: Amid imports dominating, local farmers sell the yields for peanuts

vegetable market farmers protest tomatoes
Farmers protest the import of vegetables and lack of the vegetable market for their yields, in Chitwan on February 3, 2023.

Dhanu Adhikari, a vegetable farmer in Bharatpur-16 of Chitwan in southern Nepal, is now selling tomatoes at Rs 7 per kg at the vegetable market. On a good day, she even gets up to Rs 10 a day.

But, as per her calculations, it costs her Rs 18 to produce one kg of tomatoes as she needs to pay for rent, labour, fertilisers, seeds, production, irrigation, pesticides and wages.

According to Adhikari, the price of tomatoes has been decreasing every day for a month, and it has left her worried and frustrated. Not only tomatoes, but other vegetables also have not got the proper price. She has also grown cauliflowers and carrots this year. “I have sold carrots for Rs 15 to 20 per kilogram.” 

In Chitwan, the average wholesale price of tomatoes grown by farmers is priced at Rs 7 whereas the same gets Rs 22 per kg in the Kalimati vegetable market in Kathmandu. It is being sold in retail shops in the city for up to Rs 60. But the government has not been able to intervene in the process.

Khom Prasad Ghimire, the president of the Nepal Fruits and Vegetable Traders Federation, also says that such a problem has been evident every year in November-January. He says that Nepali products are not getting good prices due to the large quantities of vegetables being imported from India in this season. “Our vegetables cannot compete with Indian vegetables produced in mass and exported with subsidies from the Indian government.”

Anup Subedi, a farmer from Chitwan, complains that traders in Nepal’s vegetable market are reluctant to buy from Nepali farmers saying that the vegetables that come from India are cheaper. “They say the tomatoes from India costs only Rs 5 per kilo. So, where should we go to sell our produces, where is the market for us?”

Lack of vegetable markets

vegetable market for organic tomatoes and vegetables
Customers buying vegetables at a local shop

Arbind Subedi of Chitwan says his cauliflowers and cabbages have not found a market yet, adding he is thinking of leaving the profession.

“We are tired of telling the government. How many days can we survive like this? The government should give our products a vegetable market where we can get at least our cost price.”

The farmers say they do not get a good price for their products while the middlemen are benefitting.

Frustrated, farmers staged rounds of protests in Chitwan in early February demanding better market opportunities. Farmers say that they were forced to protest by throwing vegetables on the road of Narayanadh because the government agencies did not pay attention to delivering the farmers’ produce to the vegetable market.

Carrots, which are currently being sold at Rs 23 per kg in the wholesale market, are being sold at Rs 70 per kg in the retail vegetable market. Cauliflowers in Chitwan are sold at Rs 15 per kg and carrots at Rs 7 to 10 per kg. Meanwhile, there is a situation that vegetables brought to Kathmandu are not even sold for Rs 15 in the wholesale vegetable market. Ghimire says, “To bring 2 metric tonnes of vegetables from Chitwan to Kathmandu, you have to pay Rs 16,000 for transportation, making it Rs 8 per kg. Farmers sell the vegetables for Rs 5 per kg and they are brought to Kathmandu, which is not even sold at the wholesale market price of Rs 15.”

The Ministry of Agriculture is aware of this problem. But, the government has done nothing to solve the problem in the supply chain management of the vegetable market. Ministry officials say that the farmers are suffering due to the problem of marketing the products, with a lack of resolution from both the farmers and the government sides. Prakash Kumar Sanjel, a joint secretary of the ministry, says while the tomatoes were thrown away in Chitwan, the price of the same product in Syangja has risen to Rs 90.

Indian vegetables in the market 

home grown vegetable market
A shopkeeper arranging vegetables in his local shop

For the last three years, the farmers of Chitwan have been hit hard by vegetables from India. Lekhnath Bhusal, a leader of struggling farmers in Chitwan, says that when he complained about this to the government agencies, there was no hearing.

“Three years ago, cheap Indian tomatoes were sold in Chitwan. After that, the farmers dumped our produce in front of the Indian traders. There were no Indian tomatoes in the market for a year. But, the next year it came again and we confiscated the Indian vegetable carts on our end.”

“We have informed the local and provincial governments and the agricultural knowledge centre, as well as the ministry about this, but no one listened,” he says, “Because no one saw the rotting of vegetables worth millions of rupees in the garden, we showed our pain on the road.”

He says the government now should study the problems in Nepal’s vegetable market. “They should take action against the culprits through effective monitoring.”

He also explains that due to membership in the World Trade Organization, Nepal cannot stop the import of vegetables from India, but he adds people have to think of alternatives.

The Agriculture Minister spokesman Sanjel says if the import of vegetables from India is banned depending on the produces of this season in Chitwan, the market dependency will go down. The cheap imported vegetables from India take up to 40 to 60 per cent of Nepal’s market, overshadowing the Nepali vegetables, he says.

Farmer Ghimire says that the government should make arrangements to buy local vegetables when prices are low. He says that the government can sell agricultural products by processing them at one level. Ones that decompose easily can be dried and preserved and some of them can be pickled to increase their value, so both the government and the farmers should make an effort from their side.

This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Nabin Dhungana is a business correspondent at Onlinekhabar.

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