Since 2014, Ron Vollebregt, co-founder of Global Collect, has been investing in a Nepalese producer of organic ginger and spices; Organic Mountain Flavor. The company guarantees 1500 farmers living in an isolated area of the Himalayasa sound market for their produce and hence a reasonable income. “The company’s value is the relationship of trust it has built up with the farmers.”
“The first ginger crop has been harvested” says the 49 year-old enthusiastically on the phone from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. He had just rounded up an Organic Mountain Flavor (OMF) shareholders meeting. Not a formal meeting but a family affair as he had taken his wife and three daughters with him. OMF founder Samir Newa had also brought along his wife. “We’ve had a really good first year. The entire harvest – 300,000 kg of ginger – has already been processed and sold for a good price. We have also learned a great deal, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice next season”.Since the sale of Global Collect, which he co-founded, Volbregt, a market gardener’s son, invests in all kinds of (agro) businesses throughout the world. “I really like the idea of investing in an SME and contributing to the development of a country”.
Volbregt first met Samir Newa eighteen months ago in Kathmandu “I was immediately impressed by his decisiveness and ambition. What’s more, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s got years of experience dealing in herbs and spices.” Volbregt was first taken to the ginger factory in far off Surkhet by Dirk Aleven of One to Watch, “You can drive to the factory but to get to the farmers you have to be pulled across a river in a rundown cablecar. Then you arrive in a valley dotted with small villages, the homes of very poor subsistence farmers who grow rice, turmeric, chickpeas, a variety of spices, potatoes and ginger in rotation on about a hectare of land each. It’s very impressive”.
Ginger is an attractive cash crop for the farmers of Surkhet but because of the many links in the chain they were hardly making ends meet. Organic Mountain Flavor cuts out all the middlemen, processes the ginger on site and sells directly to European buyers, which all means that the farmers get a better price. In addition, OMF encourages organic production so that farmers can earn even more when the official certificate “organic” is awarded.
According to Volbregt, the real challenge for OMF is not in the production or processing of ginger but in building up a relationship of trust with the farmers. “Samir and his team visit the farmers personally. They try to convince them not to use pesticides. But of course we want the farmers to sell their ginger to us, and not to others. That’s why we pay our farmers more than other buyers would and invest in the long term by offering training courses and seed purchasing on a collective basis.
Organic Mountain Flavor has a great deal of potential, says Volbregt. “In the future we will be buying from farmers all over Nepal. Not only ginger; in the mountains you can grow anything. Next season we are going to buy and process turmeric and Sichuan pepper. Eventually the factory should be working the full 12 months of the year”.