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High in the Himalayas, fruit trees offer good prospects

CSR

After a severe earthquake in 2015, almost no houses were left standing in the Nepalese district of Gorkha. Fruit trees can offer the local residents something to hold on to, both literally and figuratively. Forestry expert Jan Erftemeijer has joined the search for the best tree  varieties for this difficult area in which to grow crops. 

“Many of the Nepalese in this region are homeless. They are now living in temporary housing  built by aid workers. You can tell the area has lost its soul. There are no trees anywhere, anymore. Anything that was left standing after the quake has now been cut down for firewood,” commented Jan Erftemeijer.  Two years following the massively destructive earthquake, reconstruction is now well underway in the Gorkha district. The locals are receiving support from the Shreejana Banking Program. 

Fruit trees as a resource

This Nepalese microcredit provider helps rebuild the economy, wherever possible. In the district around the city of Pokhara, for example, the company has already issued microcredits to some 28,000 female entrepreneurs, to help them build their business. In the last few years, the credit provider has been spending 2 percent of its profits on fruit trees, that are then donated free of charge to its customers. “The director of the organisation has a solid focus on social responsibility, and wants to give the women something that generates revenue in the long term,” explained Jan Erftemeijer. “The women are responsible for looking after their own tree. A good harvest offers them healthy food for their children and an extra source of income.” 

‘The women are proud of their trees and their harvest’

Proud of the harvest 

The fruit trees have proved a real success. “24,000 lychee, guava, mango and jackfruit trees have been donated to the area around the town of Pokhara. I visited a number of villages to see how the project works. Wherever I came, the women invited me in with big smiles. They are so proud of the trees and their harvest. They are bursting with entrepreneurial spirit.” To assist Gorkha it its reconstruction programme, the Shreejana Banking Program decided to also launch a similar fruit tree project here. It proved no easy task, since Gorkha is located at high altitude, at the foot of the Himalayas. The trees have to be planted on steep slopes and the climate is difficult. It is also a logistic challenge. How do you transport thousands of trees to such out of the way locations? 

Cultivated walnuts

Together with Jan Erftemeijer, the Shreejana Banking Program went in search of solutions. To solve the logistic problems, he recommended establishing a depot for smaller  trees. “From there, people can collect the trees themselves. The choice of tree variety was a real challenge. Thanks to the ‘freezing’ cold temperatures and strong winds, the tree varieties planted in other parts of Nepal are not an option in Gorkha. “The walnut appeared to be the best choice. It was already naturally present in the area but any existing trees had been chopped down. A regional agricultural research centre, with whom we had established a partnership, is keen to reintroduce walnut trees, as an important source of nutrients including protein.” 

Faster harvests 

To increase the chance of a good harvest, the tree expert investigated which variety of walnut best suited the conditions in the area. “I am currently investigating in the Netherlands whether we can opt for a cultivated walnut variety that grows faster and is better adapted to the conditions in the mountains. I had already consulted with a specialist nursery and on the basis of his advice, have started to experiment with a variety on which nuts also grow from the side buds, and not only from the main shoots. The result is a larger harvest sooner.” Jan Erftemeijer expects to be returning to Gorkha in about a year’s time. In the meantime he will maintain close contact with the people at the Shreejana Banking Program. He hopes to be able to start planting at the end of next year. “It gives you a real sense of achievement. By planting trees, you literally give people something to hold on to.”

Jan Erftemeijer (66) studied forestry and tree cultivation in Arnhem and Boskoop. He was then employed in practical forestry teaching, and since 1986 has been owner of the forestry company Forestry Expert. Jan has been involved with PUM for ten years.