By Aswasan “AJ” Joshi
COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns left a trail of economic desolation in Nepal. As the economic activities came to a halt for months, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were hit the hardest. It was imperative that direct efforts were taken to ensure business continuity for such enterprises while also being able to retain their employees. This is precisely why the COVID-19 MSME Fund Nepal was set up. The intention of the Fund, with the help of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC, is to support struggling SMEs by providing collateral-free/interest-free bridge financing in order to meet their short-term working capital needs.
Having launched the Fund in late-October, One to Watch (OTW), which is managing the fund, has already received an overwhelming number of responses. More than 1,100 enterprises from all over the country and from multifarious sectors have applied so far. OTW is meticulously screening these applications based on pre-established criteria and ensuring that help goes out to enterprises that need it the most and have the most potential to revive. Under the screening process, we gauge the potential of an enterprise to bounce back and retain jobs based on quantitative as well as qualitative analysis. One such enterprise that OTW shortlisted and forwarded to NMB Bank, which was subsequently financed, is Sweet Dream Agriculture. This is their story.
Located in Kailali, Tikapur, far-west region of Nepal, Sweet Dream Agriculture has been selling fruit and vegetable saplings for the last 3 years from its nursery. In addition to the grafted fruit saplings which includes mangoes, litchis, pomegranates, lemon, avocado and kiwi, they also prepare timber and herb saplings. Khadak Raj Bhatt, the owner of Sweet Dream Agriculture, explained how they also buy back fruits and vegetables from the farmers they sell their saplings to and, in turn, sell the produce in their own stores in Kailali. Their business was doing well until the pandemic started.
Bhatt mentioned that the demand for their sapling tumbled sharply in the wake of the pandemic. He attributed this to the fall in consumer’s disposal income. People just weren’t buying any saplings. Reluctantly, he had to let go two out of their six employees. He argues he had an arduous time paying salary for the remaining workers as his nursery as well as the shops were completely shut for more than three months. This meant Sweet Dream Agriculture was on the brink of closure. Bhatt had to quickly find a solution to this predicament.
“Thankfully, I saw a post from OTW about the COVID-19 MSME Fund on one of the Facebook pages”, Bhatt said, “I applied on the same day hoping my enterprise would qualify.” He added, “We did, and I could not be happier.” Sweet Dream Agriculture applied to the program in November and was able to get a collateral-free loan from NMB Bank. This was a big lifeline for Bhatt and his enterprise. Now he can pay his employees and also invest in a proper irrigation system which will increase his production multifold. “Thanks to OTW and NMB, we can now finally get back on track and start crunching profit. I was completely lost for options if it weren’t for this program”, he concluded. Buddhi Kumar Malla, Head of MSME in NMB Bank, remarked that “Since NMB is a value-based bank, we give utmost importance to the agriculture sector. This is our bank’s top priority and we are happy to avail loan to Sweet Dream Agriculture through OTW’s help. We believe Sweet Dream Agriculture can sustain and grow their business while creating additional employment.”
This is one out of at least 100 stories that OTW is aspiring for. Applications are still coming in and the team at OTW is steadfast in running its screening process keeping in mind these stories and the lives we touch.