More than six hundred and fifty tons of coffee is produced annually in more than 40 districts of Nepal. Yet, it was not until the mid-1980’s that Nepal saw a major shift from growing coffee as a curiosity crop to commercial production, (the first coffee plant is believed to have been brought by a monk named Hira Giri form Sindu Province of Myanmar in 1938). Although Nepali coffee is exported to different parts of the world and is labelled Specialty Coffee it “has gone unnoticed in the international market” according to Phul Kumar Lama, Founder and Managing Director of Mount Everest Organic Coffee. However, Phul Kumar Lama, or PK lama as he is more commonly known, plans on changing this.
Nearly two decades ago, while working in the tourism sector, a friend made PK Lama realize that Nepal needed good coffee. Back then, in Nepal, coffee was synonymous to Nescafe and was served everywhere, from hotels to small restaurants. That friend also introduced PK Lama to coffee- the real kind, and made him wonder about the possibilities of coffee in Nepal. An in-depth, two year self-study, helped PK Lama realize that “coffee, the second largest selling commodity in the world after petroleum, can be grown as cash crop in Nepal.” His initial coffee venture was as a trader with two other friends, they would “collect, process and market” the coffee. Their first export, (and Nepal’s first export) was 50 kgs of coffee to Japan, the amount slowly increased until it reached sixty tons in 2007. When they first started to export, he recalled, they did not keep coffee for local consumption since they “did not have a lot (of coffee) and no one was doing it locally.”
Though initially PK Lama worked as a coffee trader, the problems with coffee quantity and quality made him shift to farming. He had tried forming groups of coffee farmers and connecting them to cooperatives to standardize the coffee quality and quantity. But the persistent problems made him realize that “opening a coffee estate was the way to go.” Currently, he has two coffee estates, one in Rasuwa and another in Lamjung, where he gets coffee for his new company Mount Everest Organic Coffee.
PK Lama joined the coffee industry to help Nepali farmers and Nepal’s economy, starting his own farm has not to put an end to that goal. “A lot of the farmers stop farming and leave Nepal for better opportunities abroad,” he shared, therefore he is “trying to help the farming community.” Currently, he has been focusing on his neighbors in Rasuwa and Lamjung. 42 farmers in Rasuwa and 65 farmers in Lamjung benefit from the free trainings he provides twice a year. Theses trainings are given by technicians working in his farms. He also provides coffee plant saplings at a lower price to his neighbors while also offering buy-back guarantee for their coffee. He plans to continue these services in the new coffee estate that he hopes to establish after an investment. The coffee collected from his farms and from other smallholder farmers from Illam, Kaski, Lamjung, Gorkha, Nuwakot, Shankuwasabha and Dhading, is hand processed in Kathmandu, by local housewives who would otherwise not have another source of income.
Nearly two decades ago PK Lama changed what was perceived as ‘good coffee’ in Nepal, and now he is further changing how the industry views local customers. “The common trend for Nepal, and many part of the world, is to export the best coffee and leave the rest for local consumption” he claims. However, he remembers wondering “what was the difference between the people abroad, who would get the best Nepal had to offer, and us.” Thus, he added “we only collect the best coffee beans and process them, so wherever you go, you will find that the coffee has the same quality.”
PK Lama has certainly brought about many changes in Nepal’s coffee industry. And, as a trailblazer had to encounter bureaucratic problems since the coffee industry was, and is, rather new in Nepal. Regardless of all this, and perhaps because of it, PK Lama wants to explore Nepal’s potential for coffee farming. According to PK Lama there is a huge potential for Nepali coffee, and “if we can tap into the demand for organic coffee, we can turn it into an export commodity for Nepal.”
Via the Rockstart Impact program he hopes to be able to establish another coffee farm to meet the growing demand for coffee and also make improvements in his processing and packaging unit.