(2) Where Apples Meet Politics
Category: FIELD NOTES
written by Radha Paudel (MDM Class of 2010), Nepal
The months of April and May are for the apples to bud in Nepal. This is the time when it is amazing to see the apple trees suddenly flower after a tough life in a long winter and give way to their buds. The naked and black trees seem like they’re smiling in mixed colors of purple and white. Many people may have tasted apples. But having a single bite of a fresh apple is beyond many Nepalese. Can you imagine how apples are as juicy as lemons when they are young and ripening? In Nepal, some places are rich in and are popular for apple cultivation, namely Mustang, Jumla, Dolpa and Humla. The marpha, a golden and red apple is a common specie of apple found in Nepal.
In Kathmandu and other cities people buy apples for prices anywhere between Rs. 100 and Rs. 2500 per kilogram (prices as of May 2011). People from all religions, castes, and regions consume apples, especially during the festivals of Dashain and Tihar. Fruit entrepreneurs bring apples from China and India via long routes, using harmful pesticides and chemicals to preserve them for days before selling them in Nepal. Rub the peel of an apple with any material, and you will see the white dust immediately.
But take Jumla's apples, and you’ll see they are different. Yet they’ve been trying to get into the market with proposals in place at the Prime Minister's Office to London (2010). These organic apples are grown in our land; most Nepalis, however, never get a chance to taste their own Nepali apples, particularly from Karnali, because of the region’s lack of easy roads and access to markets. At the Nepalgunj airport, a main gateway to Karnali, you will get the white and shining apples for NRs 120 per kilogram (October 2010 prices) without its original taste and adequate juice. On the other hand, at the Jumla airport, apples are found in traditional bamboo baskets, wrapped in small pieces of cloth and held by women and children. These apples are characterized by scratches, and are punched and too wrinkled. None of the customers seem interested to buy or taste them because they aren’t as attractive as apples that have preservatives. As strong winds beat the apples, they are wrinkled badly. Like guava in the terai, pieces of apples are thrown everywhere and they are not considered as food or as good stuff to eat or give as gifts. In addition, if you enter the apple growers, you can observe huge piles of apples under the bed or on the floor. There, the price of apples is NRs 25 per kilogram or NRs 5 per piece. If you walk further, you will see a few houses with apple chips spread outside the house and open to the elements. Sandy and dirty winds blow over them easily. Some people also prepare jam, pickle, and citer (a kind of wine) from these apples. But there is no market for these apples and apple products at all. All their varieties might be spoiled within a couple of days or weeks.
Let's calculate the production and consumption cost of apples with a layman’s perspective. To date, how many tons of apples have we had? Is it enough production for Nepal? Can Nepal export apples? Is it possible to open small and large industries for juice and wine, among other things? Will these find its way to the market? Does any multinational company show interest towards our apples? These questions remain unanswered, yet once an answer is finally found, it would most probably be a “no,” a “not possible,” because it’s assumed that if Jumla were a hub or a collection center (based on accessible geography), there is only a limited number of apples as of now (an estimated 5 tons, calculated by local apple experts).
In reality, there are a very limited number of apple farms and many constraints. These include are: 1) improper and result-oriented plans of government with regards apple production, 2) the apple farm is in the process of extinction, 3) the agricultural pattern is changing due to climate change and massive migration, 4) there’s no proper market and no promotional activities about apple cultivation, 5) the food pattern is affected by stereotypes (apple is not considered as an important food source), 6) the terrace land is empty (which is potential land for apples as experienced in Himanchal Pradesh, India), and 7) civil society groups don’t have long term visions to promote apple production.
In this context, neither the Karnali people's food insecurity nor chronic malnutrition could be addressed. The apple producer, whether in the form of individual or group efforts would be encouraged to continue work on it as a livelihood and entrepreneurial option.
Thus, it’s already too late to think about the production and consumption of Nepali apples in a sustainable way. However, there is still a ray of hope if the political leaders and parties, as well as the civil societies of Karnali, Mustang, and Manang come forward with a single and common voice in the coming days. In the meantime, funding agencies such as the UN and others should also think about different strategies while intervening with programs on food security, employment, and livelihood activities, to make its people independent, secure, and empowered in a sustainable way towards a peaceful, prosperous, equal and just society.
Ms. Radha Paudel (MDM Class of 2010) is the founder and president of Action Works Nepal (AWON). This essay was originally published in Spotlight News Magazine on 17 June 2011. You may send comments on this article to Ms. Paudel at email@example.com.