IDE Nepal specializes in agriculture development programs including empowerment of farmers, women, and socially excluded others.

idelogo is one of many NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations) operating in Nepal.

Specializing in agriculture development and market enhancement, IDE’s Nepal focus is changing the lives of poor farmers by facilitating basic improvements in irrigation systems, and other agro technologies to enhance quality and value of agro products.

In parallel, and equally important, IDE Nepal provides information and training in agriculture methods like multi-cropping and best use practices of the limited arable land available to individual farmers.

More than 70% of IDE’s training programs are tailored to women and socially excluded groups, empowering them by improving their knowledge base and increasing their income.

IDE Nepal has also identified and promoted process improvements and marketing to agro sub-sectors such as coffee, tea, spices, herbs, and essential oils. This initiative is providing farmers with supplementary income when their traditional crops of rice, wheat, and maize, are off-season.

It was the introduction of distillation equipment, primarily used for producing essential oils from herbs, that caught the attention of a team from The Spice Journal.

The Himalayan region is an abundant source of herbs used for medicinal and food supplements worldwide. At present however almost all herbs grown in Nepal are exported to India as raw products where they are processed and packaged for international markets.

Sustainability and enhancement of the herbal industry in Nepal will depend on whether farmers are able realize a viable income from it.

To enhance success and provide additional benefits to the farming communities, a program of (local) value added parameters of the industry must be implemented, including processing, standardization, packaging, and marketing.

Technology for distilling herbs into essential oils has already been introduced by IDE Nepal and several other NGOs. As this nascent industry in Nepal matures, export standards implemented, and appropriate packaging adapted, the opportunity for export to Europe and other international markets will be immensely enhanced.

It is a challenge for farmers and local traders to identify new markets, comply with the export/import regulations & standards, and develop new businesses streams; accordingly IDE Nepal is providing valuable impetus, guidance, experience, and facilitation services, to the farming communities.

Harvest and processing of herbs like lemon grass, winter green, chamomile, menthe, and juniper berry, is seasonal; so the small distillation units provided by IDE (and other NGOs) are sitting idle and unattended more than half the year.

To increase the operating cycle, and subsequently to increase revenue generation of the distillation units, IDE Nepal is experimenting with distillation of other crops (including spices) by verifying quality and yield of these products.

Fortunately Nepal has an abundance of unique spices like Adhuwa (Nepali ginger), Besaar (Nepali turmeric), Timmur (Nepali pepper), Elaichi (Nepali black cardamom), etc. However as with herbs, because Nepal is a land-locked nation, their primary export market for spices is India.

Most spices are distillible, in fact essential oils is the fastest growing aspect of the spice industry. Major food and beverage companies generally avoid using raw spices, instead procuring spice oils and oleoresins which provide them with a high standard of consistency, quality, and hygiene.

Coca cola uses nutmeg oil, Canada Dry ginger ale uses ginger oil, Heinz ketchup, Campbells soup, and other large suppliers of processed  vegetables and foods use spices oil and oleoresins for flavour and aroma.

IDE Nepal and other NGOs have tested the viability of distilling spices in the same distillation units that are located throughout Nepal for distilling herbs, and although the project is in a nascent stage of development they have determined the quality to be high and the yield to be sufficient. The next stage of the project is market development.

It is never desirable and usually not economically viable to have only one market for your products, and in the case of Nepali spice growers and traders, they mostly find themselves at the mercy of one international market, Spice traders of India.

An alternative of shipping raw ginger, raw turmeric, or timmur, overland to a port in India and transshipping it by boat to another continent is discouragingly unprofitable; this is the reason that Nepali farmers grow spices primarily for their domestic market.

If new markets are found for small quantities of essential oils distilled from spices, the other market parameters such as standards and packaging will surely follow. This will provide Nepal’s farming communities with yet another means to generate much needed income.

Recently IDE Nepal hosted a TSJ team for a tour of distillation units in Banke, an area near the India border which recently suffered disastrous flooding. The tour included a visit to a distillation unit in Mahadevpuri, Banke, where about 150 farmers are members of the community project.

The Mahadevpuri distillation unit processes lemon grass, citronella, menthe, and curry leaf, and the only market for the essential oils derived from these herbs is the traders in Nepalgunj. The administrator of the unit indicated that each farmer, on average, will earn about NRs 40,000 ($400.00) income per year from the project. This income is supplementary to their mainstay crops of rice, wheat, and maize.

The farmers told TSJ they desperately need the extra income and they are appreciative of the support they get from IDE Nepal, however they said the price they receive for the essential oil is insufficient compared to the labor they incur. They insist there must be a better market somewhere for the essential oil; they also suspect they are being short-changed by the local traders.

The administrators also insisted they need to find other products to process (such as spices) to increase the operating cycle of the distillation units, otherwise they believe the farmers will become disinterested and the project will falter.

Our TSJ team also visited distillation units in Brindawan, Madhyawargi, located in a community forest land, where about 78 farmers bring herbs for processing. There our team heard similar laments from the farmers.

One of our TSJ team members also visited a distillation unit in Attairia which has been idle for more than two years. When he inquired of a former member of the project, he was told that because of insufficient price received for the essential oils, the project was not viable.

Our representative noted that timmur grows abundantly in an area close by, and he asked whether anyone had considered using the facility to produce timmur oil; but the local fellow was unaware of any activity to explore optional products for distillation.

(Soon after this article was published, TSJ was informed that the Attairia distillation unit has been sold to private enterprise and will soon be back in production. TSJ will be following this development and will keep our readership informed accordingly)

IDE Nepal also introduced our TSJ team to members of the trading community, most all who belong to the Jadibuti Association of Nepal (JABAN). When informed about the complaints of the Nepali farmers, JABAN traders agreed that (presently) the farmers are not receiving enough income to sustain the industry; however JABAN lamented that they also have only one market for essential oils, that being the India traders.

Interestingly the JABAN traders suspect they are being fleeced by their Indian counterparts, and they are squeezed between low market prices and higher price demands of the farmers. They also insist that sustainability of this industry in Nepal will depend on whether they can find international buyers to import small quantities of high quality essential oils, at a fair and reasonable price.

The Spice Journal is of the opinion that the problems brought to our attention will be solved but it will require diligence and tenacity on the part of the Nepali traders and the NGO’s.

It is obvious that wild Himalayan herbs are abundant, likewise with wild spices such as timmur, tejpat, and dalchini. However this wild flora needs to be managed more efficiently by implementing a value-added program of local processing, packaging, and international marketing.

Regarding cultivated plants and spices, Nepal is already one of the largest producers of ginger and there is potential to significantly increase production if it can be viably distilled, and if international markets are identified.

Likewise with turmeric which once was a prized export crop, now grown only in home gardens; shamefully most of the turmeric consumed in Nepal is imported. The reason for the demise of the turmeric industry in Nepal is because of the dominance of production by the southern neighbor, and the lack of alternate markets.

With growing international demand for Ayurveda and Natural medicines, turmeric oil has a great potential for export, but the market needs to be pursued vigorously, judiciously, and innovatively.

When all of these industry parameters are commercially knitted and fitted, Nepal farming communities should realize much more generous returns.

Our kudos and support goes out to IDE Nepal and to all those who are making it happen.