Traditional khuwa business risks closure

  • a bitter sweet affair
- Anup Ojha, Bhaktapur
Traditional khuwa business risks closure

Jan 1, 2015-

Rajkumar Shrestha and his wife, of Jitpur, a village five kilometres northeast of Bhaktapur, know there is a market for their khuwa, a dairy product. Pure khuwa, the sort they make, is still sought by sweet makers in Kathmandu. It is used for making sweets, ranging from barfis and pedas to kulfis and lal mohans. But because the process of making khuwa is so labour-intensive and costly when made in the traditional way, the khuwa makers in Jitpur, which is also known as Khuwa Gaun, are thinking of shuttering their businesses. The khuwa is made by boiling down milk in huge iron vessels over wood-fired stoves, with the cooks continuously stirring each vessel with a long iron rod. The work is backbreaking: the Shresthas get up at 5 in the morning and stir the vessels until noon. On an average, they make around 12 kg of khuwa every day. But due to the shortage of firewood and a dip in the supply of high-quality milk, and with the youth in the area leaving for work abroad, this age-old tradition of making khuwa is getting harder for the villagers to keep going.

 “It’s not that demand has decreased,” says Rajkumar, 47. “Back in the day, when I was a kid, every household in this village used to make khuwa. Today, besides us, only three families are involved in this trade.”

Traditionally made khuwa is expensive, Rs 500 per kg, because, first, the milk needs to be of high quality; next the process calls for evaporating much of the water from the milk, leaving behind only reduced solids: four litres of milk need to be boiled down to get one kg of khuwa. And sal wood, used to fire the stoves, costs Rs 20 per kg. And the wood must, these days, be bought in the markets in Bhaktapur—earlier, the khuwa makers could collect wood from the nearby forests. Some of the khuwa makers are thinking of using diesel or kerosene to fire their stoves, but that would make the costs shoot up further and also render the end-product less flavoursome. Raju Baniya has tried to work around the problems by vertically integrating production. He has invested in 45 buffaloes and 20 cows, whose milk he uses to make khuwa.

But because fuel and labour costs are not coming down any time soon, even he does not see much of a future in the business the way they are going about it now. For now, the Shresthas and Baniya can only hope that those connoisseurs who prefer their product will keep buying it, even as the khuwa makers struggle to keep a lid on the costs. And they dread the day when discerning buyers decide that they will switch to the cheaper khuwa made by dairies and other businesses that do not use traditional, labour-intensive methods.

Published: 02-01-2015 09:26

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