Apples grown in Humla are excellent in quality but the farmers are unable to taste the fruit of their labour and investment due to lack of marketing facilities. So much so that some of them are compelled to feed these high value fruits to their cattle. Nepal’s western hills possess high prospects for fruit cultivation, especially apple, and the products are of top grade. At a time when the market is flooded with low quality apples imported from China and India, the delicious, succulent and sweet apples from Humla are devoid of smooth access to the market. This has worried the concerned farmers. In absence of cost effective transport facilities and cold storage, the high demand fruits in bulk production will either decay or become the feed for the cattle.
More and more farmers in the mountain district of Humla are attracted to apple farming but the commercial farming entrepreneurs are not in the peace of their mind as the risk of bearing loss haunts them constantly. Such a situation is really a challenge for the national plan of commercialising agriculture for better returns. Farmers who have vast areas of apple orchards become tense when the harvesting season approaches. Marketing their juicy products is always a herculean task. The apple orchards of Humla are out of road network, a major barrier to reach the market. Trying the air transport is an alternative but that is impractically costly. As per a news report carried by this daily, transporting a kilo of Humla apple to Nepalgunj by air costs Rs. 60. In addition, one has to hire porters to take the products to the airport from the orchards.
From Nepalgunj, the apples have to be ground transported to the capital or other urban areas of the country. This adds the transportation costs further, reducing the competitive capacity in the market. When the products pass through the wholesaler and ultimately reach the retailer, the cost is naturally high. Thus, the Humla apples fail to compete with the imported apples despite their superior quality. An apple farmer of Humla’s Simkot, who owns an orchard of 500 apple trees, applied less preferred and drier method to process the succulent apples last harvesting season as he could not sell his fresh fruits. He cut the fruits into slices and dried them for preservation. This processed item could be lighter to transport but it may not bring return comparable to that of fresh apples.
It is not the lack of market but the inaccessibility to market that is standing as a barrier to apple farming as niche products in western mountains of Nepal. The government needs to build good road network in the Karnali region that have horticulture prospects. Such transport infrastructure also opens door for other niche products like Himalayan medicinal herbs and yak cheese. Market access to Humla apples can contribute in import substitution and attaining self-reliance in fruit supplies.