From Conservation to Commercialization of Agrobiodiversity-based Products: One Step Closer with Annapaat Agro Private Limited

Agrobiodiversity is a subset of biodiversity that encompasses all aspects of food and agricultural diversity, as well as agriculture ecosystems. Agrobiodiversity being the base of food production and food security has been disappearing at an alarming rate. Overexploitation of the natural environment, climate change, human-induced pollution, habitat destruction, invasive alien species, monoculture, high reliance on external inputs like hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers, government policy promoting modern agriculture, lack of market access for local products, and urban customer demand not reaching rural producers are major causes of agrobiodiversity loss.

In an attempt to conserve agrobiodiversity, Local Initiative for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) has been taking initiative to bring light to the wide range of lesser-known native crops of Nepal which are part of the rich and diverse agro-ecosystem through various interventions. The organization promotes ‘Conservation Through Use’, which means unless agrobiodiversity are used widely they are less likely to be conserved by the community. The emphasis has been on the commercialization of agrobiodiversity-based products. With that focus, a project entitled “Market-Led Approach to Sustainable Management of Agrobiodiversity for Livelihood Outcomes” funded by Darwin Initiatives (DI) started to work in the watershed area of the Pokhara valley, which envisioned scaling up a sustainable market-led approach for marketing of valuable agrobiodiversity-based products. The project has been working since 1 June 2019, and in the last two years the project team focused empowering smallholder farmers and their agencies to increase production and productivity of local crops. The pride of the project has been the popularization of one of the neglected and underutilized crops, i.e. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica) in the project area, which is thriving well after being brought from the brink of extinction in the region. This crop is now being cultivated as a cash crop in the area with ever increasing number of households allocating more area under the crop each year.

Sharing opening remarks among the invitees during the inauguration program of Annapaat Agro Pvt Ltd.

With a vision of connecting farmers and consumers with not only the agrobiodiversity-based products but the stories behind those products, a social enterprise, Annapaat Agro Private Limited, has been established in Pokhara. On 2 October 2021, Annapaat was officially launched in Pokhara, where the programme was honoured by representatives from the Provincial Government, Pokhara Metropolitan City, Lekhnath Chamber of Commerce and Industry, key farmers (producers) from different cooperatives, and shareholders of the company. Mr. Basu Regmi, Director of the Agricultural Development Directorate, stated that “millions of Nepalese rupees are being sent to other countries to purchase hybrid seeds, while traditional knowledge, skills, and local seeds are on the verge of extinction. This is a big challenge for the Nepalese economy, and the import of such seeds should be decreased.” Supporting locally produced crops also creates a sense of connection and trust between the producer and the buyer, making the whole process more accountable.

One of the farmers, Ms. Khim Kumari Gurung, appreciated the concept and vision of Annapaat Agro. Ms. Gurung said, “We are happy that our products is getting market and we want the same in the future. We always faced issues regarding payment, and many times our products did not get to market. But now we can trust this cooperation with Annapaat and we hope this will last longer”.

Packaged items of Jethobudo and Foxtail Millet displayed during the inauguration

Annapaat is also sourcing safe and local foods like Pokhareli Jethobudo rice, foxtail millet, honey, shiitake mushrooms, Kiwi, coffee, fresh vegetables and fruits, and spices from around the Pokhara valley, as well as unique and diverse agro-products from all over Nepal, and marketing those products to regional and national markets in Nepal. Diversification from this approach allows us to preserve what is native while also adding new species that benefit both farmers and buyers. This is something that Annapaat Agro, a food centre that connects farmers and buyers, can do:

  1. By providing a market for local products and types such as pokhreli jethobudo rice, foxtail millet, and others, which will help to save the environment through production.
  2. Diversifying the food production system and increasing resilience using kiwi, shiitake mushrooms, coffee, and other crops.
  3. All the crop production is being done by employing good agricultural practices that reduces use of external inputs to limit the pollution of watersheds.

Finally, the proceeds from the sale are re-invested in the watershed’s broader conservation efforts.

In the long run, when the local food system grows, flourishes, and is well established among the consumers, it will help to reduce environmental impacts as well. Though establishing a local food system seems challenging, these products are recognized and appreciated by specific consumers who appreciate the nutritive values offered by these crops and are motivated to contribute to agrobiodiversity conservation. The project’s effort to link agrobiodiversity-based products to the market and uplift the livelihoods of smallholder farmers is underway despite the challenges faced by the project during the COVID-19 restriction. Creating a link between producer farmers and markets is finally achieved through the establishment of the packaging house – Annapaat Agro Pvt. Ltd. The proper functioning of the association between smallholder farmers and the packaging house will be a lasting legacy of the DI-funded project.