In 2001, Parshu Dahal started a small non-profit with the help of Peace Corps Volunteer Deana Zabaldo. He wanted to address poverty in his village region. Realizing that tea could grow on otherwise useless land, he organized villagers into collectives and trained them on the planting, care, and harvest of tea. Today, he is overseeing completion of a regional tea processing unit that is collectively owned by 155 farmer families–the first large cooperative tea factory of its kind in Nepal.
Women are primary tea harvesters and earners. They pick the leaves and collect in traditional baskets that hang from their heads.
Parshu has inspired field staff to work on a volunteer basis when necessary, has gained the trust of risk-averse farmers, and has successfully tapped local, governmental, and non-profit resources–including writing a major grant to build the factory. We have supported this work by initially training him in grant-writing, drafting building plans to garner donor interest, and covering costs that are difficult to get funding for: staff salaries, trainings in bush management, exposure visits, and creation of a business plan.
Ratna Rai weighs tea on a balance scale. Ratna earned less than $50 per year as a subsistence farmer and porter but now earns over $600 as a tea farmer and expects that to increase significantly when the factory opens.
Tea plants take years to mature. After more than 10 years of plant care and small harvests, over 1000 villagers now stand to benefit on a larger scale. In 2012, the processing unit will go into operation, and farmers will have export-quality organic tea. No pesticides or fertilizers have ever been used on the land—and this produces a smooth, non-astringent tea.
Most importantly, the farmers share ownership in the factory, giving them greater earning potential at higher levels in the market chain. Parshu has successfully initiated a new regional cash-crop industry that allows farmers to become economically independent and self-reliant!
Parshu conducts a shareholder’s meeting in a field because there is no central building for meetings. Parshu and the farmers spend hours coming from all directions to a central spot where they can talk.
A common sight in the area: New solar panel atop a traditional home. Farmers spend cash earnings on children’s education, solar panels for lighting, and basics such as soap, medicine, lentils, and rice.