Gundu flourishes with flower farming

  • Bhaktapur village becomes a model in supplying Makhamali
- ANUP OJHA, BHAKTAPUR

Nov 3, 2018-

It’s 4:30 am, and Meena Thapa is ready to begin her day. As soon as she wakes up, Thapa freshens up and then dutifully prepares breakfast for her two children, before heading out to work in a relative’s field, where she picks Makhamali flowers all day.

A resident of Gundu in Suryabinayak Municipality-7, Bhaktapur, Thapa, 34, is a housewife. But for the past two months, she’s taken up the role as a full-time entrepreneur, working hours on end at the Makhamali field, plucking and weaving Makhamali blossoms and then selling them to traders to bring home some extra income.

But it’s not just Thapa who has adopted this new side profession. Nearly 700 households in Gundu are growing and harvesting flowers ahead of the festivals for extra income. If anyone visits Gundu this time of the year, it is hard to miss the craze of the Makhamali, also known as Globe Amaranth: sacks on sacks of flowers lie on porches, and rafters of roofs are draped in garlands of purple, red and pink. Makhamali garlands are highly sought after during the Tihar festival, particularly on the day of Bhai Tika. And the demand only goes higher once the festival starts.

The Makhamali flower is a cash crop of sorts for the people of Gundu. The flower can grow in almost any soil type, tolerate periods of dryness, and is not susceptible to many diseases and pest problems. And the people of Gundu have over the years heavily capitalised on this crop, cultivating large areas of their land. This culture has made the place synonymous with the flower.

Meena Thapa and her two daughters sew Makhamali garlands. POST PHOTO:PRAKASH CHANDRA TIMILSENA

Every year, the place supplies Makhamali garlands worth a staggering Rs50 million, according to Rabindra Sapkota, chairman of the Suryabinayak Municipality Ward-7. This year alone, he said, Gundu has already supplied garlands worth Rs30 million and that is just 50 percent of their yield.Like Gundu, villages like Tathali, Sudal, Sipadole and Nankhel also supply these flowers in large quantities to Kathmandu Valley and other major cities like Pokhara, Bhairahawa, Narayanghat, Banepa and Biratnagar.

Agriculture Department chief of Suryabinayak Municipality Ram Chandra Sapkota said people in these Makhamali-growing areas make Rs5 million in total annually by selling these flowers.After seeing Gundu’s progress over the years, the municipality office this year has given Rs200,000 as a subsidy for farmers in Gundu who are engaged in professional floriculture. This year, the municipality distributed 40,000 seedlings to each professional farmer and 2,000 for those doing small-scale businesses, which is what Thapa is doing.

A person earns Rs5 for every garland she strings, which means if she weaves at least one garland every five minutes, she can earn at least Rs60 an hour. This means she can earn around Rs500 a day if she works just for eight hours a day.

The Makhamali business guarantees more profit than even paddy. Planting paddy in one ropani of land gives them a maximum income of Rs30,000, but planting this seasonal flower in the same area gives more than double the income. The one hiccup they face, Thapa says, is that of middlemen who make a great profit in the market by selling the same item for up to Rs80. She sells her garlands between Rs15 and Rs20.

Women at Gundu are being attracted to the business because the job ensures good return. “Women are very active here and they want to become more independent these days,” said Anita Basnet, a member of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation. Basnet says that the women, with their annual income, have gained more decision-making power in their families as well.

It is not just the women who engage in this business this time of the year. Thapa’s husband, Krishna Hari, 42, a warrant officer of Nepal Army posted in the Kathmandu-Nijgadh expressway project, also does what he can. “I am helping my wife with the weaving at home for this has greatly helped us with our daily expenses,” said Krishna.

Thapa’s daughter Babina, 19, a student of Bachelor in Social Work from the Thimi-based Sunshine College has also been joining her mother’s group, after she returns home from her morning classes. She carries a needle and a bundle of white thread after she takes her morning meal and starts preparing garlands. Her thumb and index finger on the left hand have numerous scars.

“Doing the job throughout the day gives me back pain and my fingers sometimes bleed. But the thing that motivates me to do this job is that I don’t need to ask my parents for pocket money for six months. Many of my friends and juniors do the same here,” said Babina.

Gundu is slowly becoming a model village for supplying Makhamali garlands to Kathmandu Valley. And the history of this business can be traced back to one person: the late Pahalman Nagarkoti. Three decades ago, he started planting flowers in his house in Gundu-7. Those flowers he sold at Pashupatinath Temple to feed his family of eight. “We didn’t have enough food to eat. My father, who passed away two years ago, used to plant different species of flowers and sell them on the premises of Pashupatinath Temple,” said Urmila Nagarkoti, 45, a daughter of Pahalman. “I still remember the time when Banmalas [a Newar community who have been traditionally involved in floriculture] chased him for selling flowers because then others were not allowed to sell flowers except them,” she added. However, Pahalman persisted, for he didn’t have the luxury to pursue another means of income.

“Because of his persistence, Gundu has now become a village well known for its Makhamali flowers in Kathmandu Valley, and has given women more financial stability and thus decision-making power,” said Sapkota, the ward chairperson of Gundu-7.

Locals are not just limiting themselves to weaving garlands, and are also engaged in the plantation process. For the past decade, Thapa has been planting Makhamali flowers in eight annas of land near her house. And last year alone she earned Rs60,000.

People who do not own land in the area are leasing land to plant Makhamali. Shiva Hari Nagarkoti, 48, who is Thapa’s neighbour, has been leasing land for the past 15 years and making a good income. “This time I have leased two-and-a-half ropanis of land, and I know I will be earning better. Last year I earned Rs 120,000 planting Makhamali on just two ropanis,” said Nagarkoti, who is the sole breadwinner for a five-member family. The cost of leasing a ropani of land is Rs10,000. And the best season to plant Makhamali flowers is mid-April, as seeds sown then are ready to be harvested in July and can be kept fresh for over three months.

Thanks to people like Thapa, today, areas like Gundu have firmly established themselves as the biggest suppliers of Makhamali flower. “We don’t even have to go to the market to sell flower these days,” Thapa said. “Traders come to our households to buy them.”

Published: 03-11-2018 07:23

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