The introduction of modern machinery has opened up agricultural markets for Nepal’s low income farmers

Amar Karki is a farmer from Ilam, a hilly municipality in eastern Nepal famous for its tea production. Like many residents, he has never had the opportunity to go to secondary school. Married, Amar now lives with his wife and two sons, both of whom attend the local school. He and his wife work their fields together to eke out a living from the land for just 4,500 rupees (£30) a month.

Having sold his cattle to lease 1.2 hectares of land, Amar grows maize for his own consumption in addition to ginger and pulses, which are both consumed and sold. He also owns two cows for milk production and until recently, a pair of oxen to plough his land.

Oxen have traditionally been used for ploughing and transporting goods to market. However, keeping oxen is hard work. Women are usually responsible for their upkeep and Amar’s wife would spend at least an hour a day walking them to collect fodder, cleaning the shed and taking them for grazing. There are also other problems with relying on the ox; they often get an ephemeral fever called saune rog during the important monsoon planting season.

Then the mini-tiller came along: a machine that prepares soil for agricultural production. Despite tillers being available around towns and cities, they are rarely accessible to remote rural producers in the hills. Even if available, smallholder farmers may lack the knowledge in how to use and maintain them, and the money to buy them. Therefore to most rural farmers, they remain inaccessible.

Funded by the Department for International Development (DfiD), the Samarth-Nepal Market Development Programme is a five-year initiative aimed at reducing poverty by facilitating inclusive agricultural market systems.

Samarth partnered with an importer and distributor of mini-tillers, a financial institute and a private training institute to help them develop a joint venture. As a result, they marketed mini-tillers and offered finance and training to rural farmers. The training included guidance on how to run a small service business so that smallholders could offer mini-tiller services to their neighbours.

After the training, Amar immediately sold his oxen to finance a new mini-tiller. In just five months, his monthly income doubled from increased crop production and service provision to seven of his neighbours. “The time I used to spend on my ox can now be spent on more productive farm activities,” Amar said.

Everyone wins: smallholder mini-tiller owners and their neighbours get improved, cheaper and more timely cultivation and companies involved in supplying mini-tillers have clear incentives to reach more producers. Now there are over 40 mini-tiller owners, offering services to over 300 of their neighbours.

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