Two months have passed since natural disaster struck Nepal but new shoots of recovery are already beginning to take root.
“It has been a massive blow to our people. I fear that our infrastructure and development has been pushed back by two to three years,” says Appa Sherpa, Director of the Nuwa Estate Coffee.
Since April, he has been heavily involved in the local relief effort since the earthquake tragically claimed thousands and flattened villages – leaving millions homeless.
And the arrival of the monsoon rains bring an increased risk of landslides – threatening further damage to livelihoods and crops.
It is particularly acute for Nepal’s fledging coffee industry that has been flourishing in recent years. Production has surged to over 650 tons annually – more than thirty times since the early nineties – and the growing industry now employs more then 25,000 people each year.
“We lost numerous crops that were around two to three years-old and five houses on our estate were turned to rubble, luckily no one was injured,” says Appa.
“We are now slowly returning to stability but still get minor aftershocks and expect several landslides this season that can gravely affect our estate. Coffee plants take time to grow and an even longer time to bear cherries.”
Many of the villagers who work on the farm are still living in temporary shelters of wood and tarpaulin.
In spite of this, the community has come to the aid of the estate by donating compost and helping out with the labour-intensive task of planting of more than 10,000 saplings.
“Monsoon is here and the community are helping out with transferring our saplings from the nursery. All of this done freely by the villagers out of gratitude for all the help that we have provided and are planning in the area”, he adds.
Local coffee farmers have been receiving assistance from the Green Tara Foundation, a charitable NGO set up by Nuwa Coffee Estate that was the first on the scene to provide food, medicines and relief to those most affected.
Aimed at improving the livelihoods by providing income, employment opportunities and the provision of education to under-privileged children, the foundation has successfully constructed two schools so far and provides free coffee saplings, new technologies and training to farmers.
The estate covers more than 25 hectares of agricultural land in the Nuwakot district, northeast Nepal. Located at an altitude of 1300-1400m, it enjoys ample sunlight that bathes the nutrient-rich soil of its southeast-facing slopes. This provides the optimum conditions for growing a washed bourbon varietal that has a complex body with notes of dried fruits and spice.
The organic practices on the farm also encourage greater biodiversity by inter-cropping with ginger, turmeric, and avocados under the shade ‘bird friendly’ canopy of macadamia and hazelnut trees. Harvest season is between December and March each year.
For a country that ranks as one of the poorest globally, Appa believes that coffee can play an important route to providing income security without increasing dependency on foreign aid.
He sees coffee as one of the most sustainable ways in which to help local villages rebuild towards a brighter, more secure future – but it is not without its challenges. Middle men in Nepal continue to act as a barrier for coffee producers such as Nuwa Estate Coffee from accessing international markets.
He says that this is a result of brokers in the country who all but remove traceability by collecting and mixing large quantities of coffee while fixing the market price beyond the benefit of growers.
But Appa continues to remain optimistic about the future: “In the coming years we can expect a more bountiful yield. Nepal is not a large scale coffee producer yet but in time we hope to enter the international market.”
As an emerging coffee producing country, there is huge potential for Nepal to tap into the specialty coffee boom. Benefitting from high elevations free from frost, long hours of sunlight and adequate rainfall, its climate and topography is ideal for cultivating arabica coffee.
“We want to show the world that not only do we have the breathtaking scenery of the Himalaya but we also produce specialty coffee, which has a distinct flavor profile that is be different from the rest,” he Appa.
For Appa and coffee communities across Nepal, sowing the seeds of recovery is now crucial to rebuilding the country as it strives to gain an international reputation as a rising star in the world of specialty coffee.
You can support coffee communities in Nepal by donating to the Green Tara Foundation here.