How a simple technology transforms rural Nepal

How a simple technology transforms rural Nepal

Young entrepreneur Paras Katuwal shows Nepalese farmers how to radically improve their yield using drip irrigation. “Thanks to the investment we are about to receive via One to Watch, we can grow our customer base to 100.000 farmers.”

Move to Dubai

Like so many farmers in Nepal, Paras Katuwal’s father left his wife and children to make a living in the Gulf. “Our family could not survive from the income of the farm,” says Paras Katuwal, “so my father moved to Dubai to work as a laborer. After some time he ended up working on a farm in Israel. He always hated that work in Nepal, but in Israel he fell in love with farming. All kinds of technologies made the work easier and more rewarding – financially too.”

 

Discovering drip irrigation

Upon his return to Nepal, Katuwal junior convinced his father to pick up farming again in Nepal, using the same technologies he learned about in Israel. “We imported a drip irrigation system from India and became the first to use it in Nepal.” The success was enormous: the Katuwal’s immediately quadrupled their yield from five to twenty kilo’s of tomatoes per plant. “This is still very little compared to the yields in Israel and the Netherlands, but it was a big step for us. In addition, we managed to grow and harvest tomatoes 12 months a year instead of only five months as farmers were used to.”

 

Prime minister

The success was quickly picked up by Nepalese officials, the Israeli embassy and the media. “The prime minister even came to visit our farm,” says Katuwal. “People wanted to know: where can we get this technology? How can we learn more about this? We quickly realized that we should help them.” Without formally registering a company, Paras and his father started selling systems to farmers. In the first year, they sold just four. Now, four years later, their company Nepal Thopa Sinchai is highly sought after, having sold drip irrigation systems and greenhouses to 10.000 farmers.

 

Turnkey projects

Nepal Thopa Sanchai (NTS), as Katuwal’s company is named, has quickly transformed into an agricultural project development business delivering turnkey projects for farmers. Katuwal: “We come in to do a soil and water survey. We calculate what farmers need, plan the farm lay out, buy technologies and materials, and start building. Some farmers want the full package; others can only afford a drip irrigation system and build a greenhouse themselves.”

 

Factory

Katuwal imports the equipment mostly from China and India. Initially, he wanted to start producing himself in Nepal, but his Rockstart Impact mentors suggested otherwise. “Starting my own factory seemed a smart thing to do, but they made me realize that we did not know anything about producing ourselves. Instead, they advised me to focus on selling more systems. Also I realized that the Netherlands is a rich country, but is not producing much themselves. I am now fully focused on growing our customer base to 100.000 farmers in the next five years.”

 

Feedback from farmers

That growth path is ambitious but realistic. Keep in mind: Nepal is a rural economy. 34% of Nepal’s GDP comes from the agriculture sector. Almost 66% of the people are employed in agriculture and 80% of the population is dependent on agriculture for their income. Katuwal: “We get feedback from farmers who say that they would have stopped farming if it was not for the drip irrigation system. They can improve their yield significantly and can suddenly make a living now. They are willing to invest their savings into it, because they know that they will earn it back within a year.”

 

Out-of-the-box

As not all farmers can afford the investment, Katuwal is looking at finance and insurance solutions to improve access to his products and services. “Banks are very conservative, so we need to think out of the box in order to boost our sales. That is one of the most important things I learned during Rockstart Impact. We cannot lean back now we have a popular product. We need to keep on innovating in order to build our brand.” Efficiency is another lesson Katuwal learned from his mentors. “We have to master our planning to utilize our resources in an optimal way.”

 

Multiple projects

With the new investment arriving in a few months time, Katuwal will expand his sales and distribution network throughout Nepal. Further investments will be made in inventory. “We cannot afford to wait for 45 days for goods to arrive from India or three months for supply from China.” The investment will also be used to attract and train employees. “We want to be able to install multiple projects at the same time.”

 

Great returns

Coming from humble beginnings, Katuwal now has the feeling he can achieve anything. “The investment has given me such an enormous energy boost. Sometimes I’m still astonished about the fact. I have asked Willem many times why on earth he has chosen to come to Nepal? The Netherlands is so far away. Besides, even Nepalese people do not believe in us. Do not get me wrong, I’m very grateful to the investors. We will not break their trust. We are going to give them great returns.”