KALIKOT, April 29: When he quit studies to return to his village 10 years ago, Begam Shahi, a resident of Phoi Mahadev VDC in Kalikot district, was ridiculed by his friends.
The friends were not irrational. Going back to village at the height of insurgency was like jumping into the jaws of death, but Begum was resolute in what he was up to. "I did not listen to my friends who asked me to become a teacher after completing studies in Surkhet," he says.
The year was 2001. The infamous Narayanhiti massacre had just jolted the country and hordes of youths were leaving their villages to escape the war. Begum -- then just 18 -- was returning to Kalikot forever. "I had made up my mind," he says. "I wanted to do apple farming in Kalikot."
A decade later, Begum has proved that he was not crazy. He has not only become a pioneer apple farmer in Kalikot but also inspired other villagers to shun traditional farming. Today, there are as many as 100 apple farmers in Kalikot -- most of them inspired by Begum´s success.
BEGUM BAHADUR SHAHI
Before Begum began apple farming, all Kalikot folks were dependent on traditional farming. Only a few knew that they could make money through apple farming. Begum was undoubtedly the first to realize that the topography of Kalikot suited apple farming -- as in Jumla and Mustang -- than anything else. When he was a child, he would often go to school hungry.
"The crop was not sufficient," says he. "My family´s financial condition improved only after I started apple farming." Today, his children no longer go to school on empty stomach. He has been earning Rs 300,000 every year. "I can earn much more if I get to export all my products," he said. In rainy seasons, he cannot export apples as Karnali highway remains blocked.
Begum´s father Jay Rup Shahi was the first to plant apple saplings in Kalikot over 40 years ago. Jay Rup had brought a few apple saplings from Himanchal of India. However, he did not do apple farming commercially. "At that time, it was difficult to export apples since our district was cut off from the rest of the country," says Begum. "We had to grow everything that we required to survive in the village."
By the time Begum started apple farming, Karnali was all set to get connected to Surkhet. In the first few years, he exported his apples only to Jumla. When Karnali highway was completed, he began exporting his products to Surkhet, Nepalgunj and even Kathmandu.
Begum has now set up a fruits refinery centre where he manufactures apple juice and chips. Three employees help him there. He has also developed a nursery with 1600 saplings. He is the only farmer to manufacture juice and chips. Other farmers sell just apples.
District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) of Kalikot has felicitated Begum as the pioneer apple farmer. "He is the face of apple farming in Kalikot," says Chuman Singh Giri, technical assistant at the DADO. "If other farmers follow Begum´s footprints, Kalikot folks will not have to wait for subsidized rice. They will no longer be hungry."
Jumla´s apples have already become a brand. Begum wants Kalikot´s apples to be a brand, too. His apples are organic. In fact, the Kalikot DADO has declared three VDCs including Phoi Mahadev as organic villages. The DADO is likely to declare more organic villages in future.
According to Giri, around 5,000 hectares of land in Kalikot are suitable for apple farming. However, only around 1,000 hectares have been used for apple farming so far.