At age 70, farmer Kabi Ram Thapa Magar (pic, right) did something he had never done before in his long life. He stopped growing maize and switched to ginger.
Thapa Magar was reluctant at first and full of doubt: what if the crop failed or he couldn't get the right price? He would have neither food, nor money. But with neighbouring farmers in Lekhpharsa of Surkhet district, he took the plunge.
He hasn't regretted the decision. He says: "I found that the value of a year's production of ginger is equal to that of 10 year's production of maize."
The increase in demand for the spice cash crop has encouraged farmers here to triple the area under ginger cultivation. Farmers had been reluctant to switch to ginger because they didn't have a cushion against a collapse in market prices.
"We didn't have any other option than to sell our ginger at whatever price the middlemen gave us because if we didn't it would just go to waste," says Laxmi Kharel, another ginger farmer here.
With an increase in demand for ginger in the international market, Nepal's total production grew three-fold to Rs 1.31 billion in the past year. Nepal is now the world's fourth largest ginger producer after India, China, and Indonesia. More than 60 per cent of Nepali ginger is exported to India because there are no processing plants here.
"Our fresh ginger is exported to a processing country which exports it for a much higher value," says Rajendra Bhari, project managaer of High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP). "If we establish ginger collection and processing centres within the country, export volume will increase and so will the value of our products."
Which is exactly what the government's HVAP is trying to do with support from the Dutch group SNV in partnership with Organic Mountain Flavour, a private company that has been involved in organic ginger production for over three years.
(The above is an extract from an article 'Ayo A-du-wah' published on the English weekly-Nepali Times following a media visit to the Surkhet district in Western Nepal.)