How one man's coffee trees were saved

One of TGT’s long standing trustee’s Andy Rutherford, spent time in Nepal earlier this year and took the opportunity to visit our project work in Deusa, Solukhumbu. While he was there, he met Net Kumar Rai whose story shows just how much difference a project like ours can make. Andy tells Net’s story here:

Destroy? - Preserve - Create

In 2014 Net Kumar Rai had had enough of his coffee bushes. He had only got 100 Nepali Rupees (about 60p) for a kilo of green beans. He knew he could use his valuable terrace plots on the sides of the hills of Deusa better.

Net Kumar Rai in Deusa’s coffee belt.

Net Kumar Rai in Deusa’s coffee belt.

So he started to cut down his nearly worthless, fruiting coffee trees, with plans to use them as firewood for cooking and fodder for his buffalo.

Five hundred metres higher up the steep Himalayan hillside there was a meeting taking place in the Eco-Himal community office. Narayan Dhakal, the Eco-Himal Director, was meeting with his community agro-forestry team. He overheard a conversation in one of the local languages, Rai, and gleaned some key facts… ‘Net Kumar – coffee – destroy’

Narayan knew Net Kumar well. He was one of the inspirational ‘lead farmers’ in Deusa. Narayan was disturbed that Net Kumar, a person who was respected for what he created, was destroying. Narayan, urgently, wanted to understand what was happening and why. He interrupted the meeting and asked for more details from one of his junior staff, Jai Raj.

Jai Raj matter of factly said that Net Kumar was cutting down ALL his coffee bushes.

Narayan was distressed and summoned up his thirty adult years of walking up and down the Himalayan terraces of Nepal and sped down hill to Net Kumar’s home just below the High School and the tea shop that Net Kumar ran with his wife, Raju.

Net and Raju Kumar Rai at their home in Deusa

Net and Raju Kumar Rai at their home in Deusa

He then ran across to where he knew Net Kumar’s terraces were and was shocked to see coffee bush stumps, dotted around, jutting out of the stony soil.

Narayan could not find Net Kumar but left a simple plea for him, “Please do not cut down any more bushes.”

The plea got through to Net Kumar and, as he knew Narayan well and respected him, he paused the cutting down and a few days later they met.

Net Kumar shared that quite simply, his coffee bushes were a lot of work for very little income. There were no machines for hulling or pulping so this meant a lot of work in preparing the green beans. Then the lack of roads and transport around Deusa created terrible challenges to get the beans to a buyer. They all had to be carried in dokos (woven bamboo head carrying baskets) till the first bumpy earth roads and then downhill to potential buyers. This all took a lot of time and was expensive.

After all this, the price of 100 Nepali Rupees (about 60p) for 1kg of green beans simply meant it was not all worth it. He wanted to use his terrace plots for either more orange trees or simply fodder grass for his livestock. He was hoping to slowly build up his numbers of Murra Buffalo, famous for their milk. They had big appetites!

Narayan Dhakhal (Executive Director, Eco Himal Nepal)

Narayan Dhakhal (Executive Director, Eco Himal Nepal)

Narayan had returned from Kathmandu after trying to prepare himself to meet with Net Kumar and understand why the coffee bushes were ‘for the chop’. He had tried to get some advice. He had visited the Nepali Coffee Board but they had not been helpful. However, he had spoken with Bola Shrestha at an NGO called Helevtas and he had said that “there was something that could be done!”

Narayan shared the ideas with Net Kumar who was interested in seeing if they would work. About seventy trees had been lost but more had been preserved.

Narayan shared the story of Net Kumar’s coffee bushes with Robin Garton, founder of The Glacier Trust. Robin was a regular visitor to Deusa; it was the place where a visionary Agro-Forestry Community Centre (AFRC) was being built as a focus for support and training for Net Kumar and the other hill farmers in the communities in and around Deusa.

Plans were interrupted dramatically by the earthquake on 25th April 2015 that devastated so many communities across Nepal. Solukhumbu District, with Deusa in its South was badly affected.

However, as soon as it was possible after the earthquake, Narayan went back to Bola at Helvetas. They revived their discussions and developed a small training programme for the farmers of Solukhumbu and got timely support from The Glacier Trust and the Swiss Development Corporation.

The first training session held in Deusa was in March 2016 and in Net Kumar’s community. Nearly forty women and men gathered on the terraces near Net Kumar’s home. A humble community movement started, a coffee pulping machine was bought and based in the now built and established Deusa AFRC and other trainings followed. The commitment from the new start was to keep the coffee organic.

Net Kumar with his coffee tree.

Net Kumar with his coffee tree.

By harvest time, two more pulping machines arrived and the parchment coffee beans were bought at an initial fair price and they were carried and driven to Kathmandu where they were sold. They were not easy to sell as the commercial ‘raw’ coffee market in Nepal is quite underdeveloped. Eventually Narayan was able to bring back 247,000 Nepali Rupees (just under £1,800) which was shared amongst over 100 farmers.

Coffee could be worth it!

Now Net Kumar and the other community coffee growers, are embracing the potential income. With continued support from the Agro Forestry Resource Centre (AFRC) in Deusa and The Glacier Trust, the preserved coffee bushes are now creating new possibilities for Net Kumar and Raju and their children Aruna who is 13, Sandesh 9 and Salina who is 5. Their household is one of over a 100 households across Deusa and Waku whose lives and livelihoods are being improved.

In April I was privileged to visit Deusa and the communities around it with Narayan and together we met with Net Kumar and Raju, shared a delicious tea in their tea-shop then walked around their terraces and between their now mature and very healthy ‘preserved’ coffee bushes.

Andy Rutherford, Trustee of The Glacier Trust.

Narayan Dhakal tells some of this story in our short film ‘Coffee. Climate. Community.’ We will be selling Nepal Glacier Coffee again this winter. It will be available to pre-order soon, you never know you might get a coffee bean or two from Net Kumar’s saved trees!