Next Stop: Nepal!

Tara Pandey
7 min readSep 1, 2022

After more than a year of communication with Sunita, Sabina, and Bimala didi, from Saughat Lollipop Industry in Sindhuli, and with GreenGrowth, I finally made it to Kathmandu!

While many of my extended family members live in Nepal, I hadn’t visited in four years due to COVID-imposed travel restrictions and complications. Although I did plan to set aside time to see my grandmothers, enjoy Nepali food, and enjoy the natural and cultural wonders, my priority this time was my work with Karesa Bazaar.

Kathmandu (pre-Sindhuli)

I stayed in Nepal for nearly four weeks. My time was divided between Kathmandu and traveling to and back from Sindhuli. While Saughat, the milk candy cooperative I have been working with for the past 18 months, is based in Sindhuli, Green Growth and Storycycle — the platforms I would be collaborating with in the coming year, are based in Kathmandu.

I spent the first week of my trip to Nepal in Green Growth office — understanding the online marketplace in Nepal. In summary:

  • Day 1 was an introduction to the GreenGrowth team, its operations, and its user interface. In addition to meeting Saurav Dhakal, Curator at Storycycle and Advisor to GreenGrowth face to face for the first time, I also met Deepika Gyawali (Finance Manager), Nischal Pokharel (Operations Manager), and Susant Devkota (Social Media Manager of GreenGrowth).
  • On Day 2, we explored the front and back end of GreenGrowth platform. It was interesting to see beyond the facade of the site, understanding how the customer interaction was designed (i.e., how admin could edit orders, update delivery status, change the availability of products, etc.)
  • On Day 3, I came face-to-face with the mobile platform. While the mobile version of the GreenGrowth platform is not yet available, I got to see a prototype. We also discussed if Karesa Bazaar would be a feature of Green Growth or a separate app.
  • Day 4 was really exciting as I got to meet Saroj Dhakal, who was working on the development and integration of food-tracker, a QR-code-tracking application that allows consumers to track the journey of agricultural products from “farm to fork”. This really piqued my interest, and I thought it would be fascinating to work more closely with the food tracker as a separate open-source app.
  • Day 5 was our last meeting before we headed out to Sindhuli to understand the potential use cases for the Karesa Bazar app. We created a presentation, to illustrate the story of my work with Saughat Lollipop, and how the lessons we had learned from this experience could form the basis of further work with the GreenGrowth Team and with the QR-Code and Tracking App.

Sindhuli

Finally, following our week of preparation, Saurav ji, Deepikaji, my mom and I embarked on a five hour car ride to Sindhuli. On the way — our brunch stop was HASERA, an organic farm that doubled as a permaculture learning center in Patalekhet. HASERA is devoted to sustainable agricultural practices and encourages environment-friendly farming through a plethora of training courses, in topics such as organic product certification, permaculture farm design, etc.

Our next stop along the way was in (Name of the Place where we met the Junar Farmer). Here we met with three junar farmers and got an introduction to the importance of junar, aka sweet orange, to Sindhuli. Although uncommon in the US, junar is a Nepali fruit that is similar to a Navel orange, but has a slight tang. Junar is one of the five products that are currently QR Code- tracked in Green Growth’s platform. The meeting was an especially interesting experience for me because it was my first interaction with the primary demographic of the Green Growth platform, the farmer.

After sitting down with them for a few hours and a few more cups of tea and engrossing conversation, we hit the road again, to make it to our final destination for the day, Sindhuli. We made sure to stop by Bimala didi’s shop, where I saw the retail side of the Saughat milk candies for the first time. I had seen this store so many times over Facebook Messenger calls. However, this was my first time seeing the physical building. It was surreal to finally see the store in real life rather than on a screen. And at long last, I also met Bimala didi, who was very welcoming.

Saughat Lollipop

The next day, we woke up bright and early and headed out to Saughat Lollipop. After a long-awaited year filled with messenger calls, I finally got to meet the amazing women behind Saughat! This included Bimala didi and one of my team members Sabina — who is also a member of my MIT Solv[ED] team and an intern at Saughat Lollipop. Unfortunately we did not get to have a full face-to-face team meeting with Sunita, our other teammate, because she had just left for Kathmandu to take classes in English language and communication skills.

Bimala didi started with a short introduction of Saughat’s journey up till then. I detailed our work with Saughat and Deepika ji talked about how Sindhuli products such as the milk candies make it to the GreenGrowth Platform.

After our presentations, we put together an entrepreneurship activity for those attending to participate in. The members split into four groups and devised a strategy to sell a product that one of the team members was involved with (milling local grain, raising goats, etc.)

While the groups were brainstorming, we also swung by Saughat’s kitchen where they make their milk candies. We also got to see the equipment used to make the candies and the famous pink room, where the candies are handmade.

Finally, we went back to the meeting room to hear the groups’ pitches. This simulation was a great opportunity for these young women to put themself in the position of an entrepreneur. Not only was it an insightful experience for the cooperative members, but it was just as insightful for me, as I learned a lot about the state of the market in Sindhuli, how business was run there, and the challenges specific to the area. I took note of all of this to bring back to the Green Growth developers in Kathmandu.

After the activity drew to a close, we headed outside for some hot lunch, made fresh by members of the cooperative. As we enjoyed the delicious meal of mixed bean stew and chapati, we talked more with the cooperative members and took pictures.

Bimala didi also presented me with a framed picture collage as a token for our work with the cooperative. I thanked them for the kind gift and bid farewell to the cooperative.

Beyond Saughat

Following our visit to Saughat, we dropped by a women-run cloth weaving enterprise that made saris and other traditional Nepali garb with a Nepali Dhaka pattern. The process was painstaking and fascinating, with each yard of Dhaka cloth taking days of hard work to create. This product, while different from fruits and vegetables, seemed like another ideal candidate for tracking on the GreenGrowth platform.

On our third day, we picked up Sabina and traveled to Makwanwanpur, the next village, where we paid a visit to a buckwheat and millet millet farmer’s cooperative. I learned about the four different types of millet and two different kinds of buckwheat grown and processed in the village. We were evaluating another kind of product to try the tracking on.

While the groups were brainstorming, we also swung by Saughat’s kitchen where they make their milk candies. We also got to see the equipment used to make the candies and the famous pink room, where the candies are handmade.

Back in Kathmandu After Sindhuli

When we returned from Sindhuli, we continued our meetings in Kathmandu and made plans for the next steps. I am now starting the next phase of my work with micro entrepreneurs — or Karesa Udhyamis — of rural Nepal.

We are planning to move forward with a three-pronged strategy to support rural women entrepreneurs to an online marketplace:

  • Partner: Karesa Bazar Marketplace will be hosted at GreenGrowth.life.
  • Approach: Karesa Udhyami School will support rural entrepreneurs’ online journey by helping them access a series of online educational modules on the marketing of agriculture, fruits and craft best practices
  • Tool: Karesa Tracker will be a track and trace tool that allows stakeholders to have visibility over the journey of agricultural and entrepreneurial products

We have a long way to go but please hang in there as I continue my journey.

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