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Strengthening Communities (SC): a herbal farming alternative

To connect Nepalese small-scale farmers to herbal markets; to grow, process and produce herbal products together to increase farmer incomes.

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

THE IDEA:
To grow, process, produce and sell organic and sustainably sourced herbal products together with small-scale farmers to improve their incomes and strengthen local environments.
HOW IT WORKS:
Herb Nepal (HN), an organic farm and training centre will create a farmer network in 3 districts consisting of; SC Champions (Cs) and SC Farmers (Fs). Cs are passionate, dedicated farmers that are trained and certified by HN in organic and sustainable herb farming. Cs then train Fs, selected by the HN Community Mobiliser in partnership with the local community. Together, all the farmers (Cs and Fs) use their personal land to cultivate and sell high-value herbs on the SC programme replacing spoiled vegetables; hence 'a herbal farming alternative'. Once cultivated, Farmers have two choices: i) Sell herbs direct to market OR ii) Take them to Herb Nepal (HN) collection centre for value-adding production, with HN taking them to market. Direct payment is made to the farmers (subject to quality and quantity). Revenues from HN products are partly reinvested into the SC programme to scale up and maximize impact. Ongoing support for farmers including technical inputs, provision of current market prices, improved farming methods which reinforces market connection.
WHAT PROBLEM DOES YOUR IDEA SOLVE:
Low and insecure incomes of small-scale farmers, high levels of food waste and spoilage, unsustainable farming, dangerous levels of chemical use and their negative effects on health.

WHO BENEFITS?

Beneficiaries are economically poor farmers with a special focus on women and girls, historically excluded castes and ethnicities, rural people and groups experiencing marginalisation for other reasons. Secondary beneficiaries include product consumers and farm visitors. Primary benefits are increased incomes, increase in organic and sustainably grown foods, stronger environments and healthier communities and increased awareness of organic and sustainable farming.

WHERE WILL YOUR IDEA BE IMPLEMENTED?

HN intends to implement the SC programme in various districts in Nepal, including the far-west. However, this pilot programme will have a specific focus on the central region (Sindupalchowk, Kavre and Bhaktapur).

ARE YOU IMPLEMENTING IN AN ELIGIBLE COUNTRY?

  • Yes

EXPERTISE IN SECTOR

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year

EXPERIENCE IN IMPLEMENTATION COUNTRY(IES)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU!

HN is a Private Limited based in Nepal, and established by Simone Alexander and Benjamin van Ooij in December 2014. Unlike a traditional business model HN has a triple-bottom line approach, that measures success based on our social, environmental and financial impact.

IS THIS IDEA NEW FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION?

The SC Programme is a central and fundamental element of HN, farmer-inspired, it provides a solid foundation on which future innovative and ground-breaking programmes can be realised.

This idea is not new, it has evolved gradually over the past three years as a result of personal and profession experiences; seeing first-hand the financial difficulties and food insecurities faced by farmers and their families in Nepal; experiencing first-hand the harsh environment including landslides and earthquakes but at the same recognising the agency, inherent strengths and resources that farmers possess to address the problems that they are facing. Together, this has led to the creation of the SC Programme as a farmer-led platform.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA UNIQUE?

Prior to setting up HN, we asked ourselves some difficult, but poignant questions. Namely, are we simply replicating what others are doing? Is there space for HN? Can HN make a difference? In hindsight, it was this approach that already made us different. This dialogue was crucial as it allowed us to crystallise the unique advantages that we possessed to implement this idea.
Key differences:
- Commitment to creating fair, inclusive and sustainable value chains;
- Ongoing technical and market support for farmers (not just training);
- Organic herbal farming as an alternative to chemical farming;
- A triple-bottom line business; measuring success by social, environmental and financial outcomes;
- A scalable and replicable programme.
Unique advantages of HN are:
- Support from local community, local government offices and ministries;
- Temporary infrastructure and staff team in place;
- Financial, HR, admin systems;
- Research student placements;
- Farm stays completion expected September 2016;
- A mini-pilot of the SC programme for 50 women farmers in Kavre district is ongoing;
- Strong organizational values.

WHO WILL IMPLEMENT THIS IDEA?

HN will oversee and manage the implementation of the overall pilot programme. This will be carried out with support from local partners including local NGO's, farmer groups, Community Forest User Groups and local Village Development Councils (VDC's). These partners will enable the SC programme to successfully reach the intended beneficiaries.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BECAUSE OF BENEFICIARY FEEDBACK?

A combination of participatory theatre (with role plays and mock-ups), storytelling, supply chain maps and sample herbal products were used creatively to engage the farmers. The feedback confirmed that the programme has been well designed and will make fundamental differences to the lives of poor farmers.
However, we recognised that for cultural reasons people can be inclined to give positive responses rather than those that might lead to disappointment. Therefore, a farmer-led, participatory and culturally appropriate feedback mechanism will form part of the SC programme. Amendments to the programme include; payment methods will now be varied, including cash, mobile phone payments (depending on availability) and cheques to allow for individual farmer preference. Secondly, local collection centres will be established to allow for easier transportation which will be transferred to the centrally based Processing and Production centre, Sanga, Kavre. For detailed beneficiary feedback please see attached document.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS IDEA?

As a pilot programme, there are a number of unanswered questions:
1. What will be the impacts (positive and negative) of the programme on farmer's income levels and food waste?
2. Which training methods will be the most cost effective and lead to sustainable outcomes for farmers?
3. 'Which new herbal agricultural products will perform best in the face of the changing climate?
4. What will be the impact of climatic change on projected yields?
5. Although not part of the programme, an unanswered question is whether there can be a strategic fit between financial services and a social enterprise?
6. 'What will be the best ways to adapt the programme so that it is replicable across Nepal

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

The current accessible markets for many small-scale farmers encourage them to cultivate using only conventional i.e chemical farming methods and crops. The problem we seek to solve is low incomes, unsustainable farming methods, high food waste and negative impact on health. These problems are compounded by uncertain markets, fluctuating market prices and competition from neighbouring countries. These problems have yet to be solved as there is a lack of knowledge at a government and institutional level, there is a lack of technical know-how and alternatives for individuals, and the development sector, although pockets of good examples still promote conventional farming methods.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

The HN vision is to have a massive social and environment impact that inspires people to act and solve global challenges. The products are different, mini change-makers representing solutions to global challenges, catalysts for positive social and environmental change, all inspired by personalised messages from Nepali farmers. The next step is to produce and sell these high quality products that are commercially attractive with positive social and environmental outputs.

MEMBERS OF MY TEAM HAVE BEEN WORKING TOGETHER FOR:

  • Less than 6 months
  • Between 6 months and a year
  • More than a year

MY INTENDED BENEFICIARIES ARE:

  • Within 100 km of where our team does most of its work

MY ORGANIZATION'S OPERATING BUDGET FOR 2015 WAS:

  • Under $100,000

ABOUT HERB NEPAL

Herb Nepal (HN), established in December 2014 is an innovative organic farm and training centre, based in Naichal, Bhaktapur (central region). HN is a Private Limited social enterprise legally registered in Nepal.

The overall mission is 'to create a better world, a fairer world and a healthier world'. The farm works closely with small-scale farmers and communities to actively promote the principles of organic and sustainable farming methods.

As an exciting and groundbreaking farming environment, with a range of income generating activities taking place, HN will become financially independent. Planned activities for 2016 onwards include farms stays, fee-paying training courses, community-led initiatives and volunteer and intern placements. The income from these activities will be partly reinvested into the running of the SC programme to secure its future. 

ABOUT THE SC PROGRAMME

The SC pilot programme has been created in partnership with small-scale farmers and is aimed at small-scale farmers in Nepal. The programme offers a refreshing solution for small-scale farmers that improves incomes and reduces food waste; achieved through the alternate cultivation and processing of high-value organic herbal crops.

This means farmers can access fair, inclusive and improved herbal markets which provides an alternative to vegetable farming and markets.

Programme aim: To connect Nepalese small-scale farmers to herbal markets; by growing, processing and producing organic herbal products together to increase farmer incomes and strengthen local environments. 

Programme objectives:

1. To increase the income and improve living standards of 6975 small-scale farmers and their families;

2. To improve access to fair, inclusive and sustainable organic herbal value chains for 1395 small-scale farmers in 3 districts within three years;

3. To train 1395 small-scale farmers in organic and sustainable farming methods.

Motivated by the desire to bring about positive social change, it seems self-defeating to cap the potential of this idea by the use of beneficiary numbers. Therefore, minimum target numbers are included although we intend to achieve much more. Working in partnership with IDEO, we believe this idea has the potential to scale up, replicate and take this idea to farmers that live in other vulnerable areas in Nepal.

Minimum primary beneficiary numbers include a farmer network of 1395 members made up of; 45 Champions (Cs) and 1350 Farmers (Fs). Beneficiaries will include 5580 family members of the Cs and the Fs. Total beneficiary numbers are 6975 which is based on an average family size of five within Nepal. 

The focus districts will be in the central region (Sindupalchowk, Kavre and Bhaktapur).

Programme detail

The programme can be summarised by a 4 step approach:

1. SC Training - The Training & Demonstration (T&D) hub based in Naichal, Bhaktapur provides trainings in sustainable and organic farming and herbal production that combines indigenous, local and modern farming knowledge to small-scale farmers.

The SC training programme provides ongoing comprehensive support for farmers over a 3 year period. Interventions for farmers include access to new farming technologies, provision of market prices, ongoing support and advice from the locally based HN Community Mobiliser.

The HN team, based at the T&D hub will train fellow farmers from across the target areas within 3 years. These farmers certified as Champions (C's) will then train fellow Farmers (F's).

2. Cultivation and Farmer processing - All farmers (C's and F's) that have been trained on the SC programme will then cultivate high-value organic herbal crops. Fs with ongoing support from Cs, will use organic farming methods to maximise land productivity, increase incomes and strengthen their local environment. Additionally, herbal crops can be used to support and improve the health of the local community and to increase the biodiversity of community forests. Depending on climate and regional variations examples of crops include Ginseng, Valerian, Lemongrass, Tumeric and Ginger.

A unique aspect of the SC programme is to enable small-scale farmers to process locally, resulting in increased control over the herbal value chain. Processing can take a number of forms including dehydration, pulverising, and extraction. Farmers have an option to take these herbs to market independently or to HN for either processing or packaging. 

The added benefit of processed herbal crops, unlike other foods is that they have a long shelf life. Once dehydrated, and as long as they are stored in an airtight container herbs can last in a warehouse facility for over a year.

3. Transportation and production - Farmers can decide to bring them to the HN Processing and Production centre, based in Sanga, Kavre (1 hour from Kathmandu and 25 minutes from Naichal) or a local collection centre. Quality and quantity of the herbs will be checked, confirmed and payment will be made to the farmer.

Where required and depending on the requirements of the target market, HN will create additional value through the use of additional post-harvesting processing and production methods and techniques. Examples of products include natural cosmetics, dried herbs, teas, tinctures, salves and creams, flower essences and foods as medicines (depending on findings from market research). 

Throughout the 3 year pilot period, HN intends to sell products in national markets via local farmers' markets, on-site retail, speciality retailers, Ayurvedic doctors and the wholesale market.

4. Up-scaling - Following the initial three year pilot period, HN plan to scale-up the activities using a three‐prong strategy.

Regional export market: Explore and initiate export markets in China and Japan to access new markets.

In-house manufacturing: Manufacturing will be scaled-up to widen product range and gain control over the value chain and to reinvest higher income into the SC programme.

Regional Training centres: Regional training centres in the far-west region will increase the reach of the SC Programme and the inherent benefits.

IMPACT

The impact of the SC programme will be:

  • Increased incomes and improved living standards for small-scale farmers and their families; 
  • Improved access to fair, inclusive and sustainable organic herbal value chains for small-scale farmers; 
  • Increased use of organic and sustainable farming methods;
  • Improved biodiversity and stronger environments in target areas;  
  • Improved personal health in target areas.


MONITORING AND EVALUATION

Internally, progress will be tracked to ensure that we are exceeding expectations of this programme. HN only develops systems that help, not hinder our actual work. There will be internal reporting mechanisms, line management in place to ensure that everyone in the HN is supported in their work and have the opportunity to excel. It will be useful to use some basic, yet effective methods for capturing key information, such as focus group discussions, interviews, attendance sheets and registration forms but otherwise the focus of the work will be practical in nature with minimal levels of bureaucracy. 

SUCCESSES AND ACHIEVEMENTS

Sath Sathai Mundi, a local NGO in Timal, Kavre requested Herb Nepal to conduct the SC programme as a consultant service. This training is currently taking place for 50 women farmers from the Tamang community. This programme is providing a unique opportunity to test, reflect and make amendments on the proposed SC pilot programme.







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Team (4)

Prina's profile
Prina Bajracharya

Role added on team:

"As a Product Designer and previous student on Ideo's Human Centered Design, Prina made valuable inputs into how the approach with the community could be improved and to give space for other potential solutions to food waste and low incomes to be created. Together, we met with a small group of community members for an initial session, no alternatives were offered, but our idea was again positively reinforced. However, it was a useful process and made us look more critically at the idea."

Agraj's profile
Agraj Dangal

Role added on team:

"Agraj is a key organiser of the IDEO Meet-up in Nepal. I was keen to meet to get a better understanding of the meet-ups. We met for one session as a team, in which he provided some valuable inputs to improve the idea. A second meeting was not possible, although I hope to build upon and increase Agraj's contribution in the future."

Simone's profile
Benjamin's profile
Benjamin van Ooij

Role added on team:

"Benjamin, the Director of HN worked for many years in the field of finance, IT and business. Although in 2010 this all changed as a result of travelling and working on organic and sustainable farms, Benjamin realised his passion was to pursue farming. His personal aim is for people to create sustainable food systems, have access to healthier food and stop poisoning the planet."

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Attachments (3)

HN_SC_Experience_Map.pdf

This is the original user experience map.

HN_SC_Experience_Map_testing_assumptions.pdf

This user experience map was the basis on which the theatre session, storytelling and 'thumb up' 'thumb down' exercise took place. The method used to test our assumptions about the SC programme is included in this document.

Beneficiary feedback - in detail.pptx

This document contains the detailed beneficiary feedback categorised according to 'The Good', 'The Bad', 'The Unexpected' and 'What Next?'.

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