Nirab Bhattarai, 28, wakes up early every morning and catches the 6:30 bus from downtown Ratna Park to Sankhu on the Valley's eastern edge. After an hour long hike, he reaches his small farm on the foothills of Shivapuri National Park.
In 2010, Nirab and his seven friends travelled to Gagal village to get away from the city's chaos. "We stood on the edge of the hill and stared at the congested Valley below us and wondered how it feeds itself," recalls Nirab. The group of unemployed electric engineers joked amongst themselves about buying a patch of land and starting commercial farming.
While other young professionals look to build their CVs and make easy money, Nirab, an MBA graduate, and his friends chose to get their hands dirty over the typical nine to five job. Today, they can be found on their farm, tilling the land, watering seedlings, picking cucumbers, and grazing cattle.
Nirab admits it hasn't been easy starting out in a field for which they are not qualified. They lost 100 bulbs of mushrooms planted last year due to lack of care. "We know how to use machines, but dealing with animals and plants is a completely new experience and we are still learning," he explains.
Nepal has gone from becoming a food exporting nation to a food importing nation in less than a decade. The country spends millions every year importing fruits and vegetables from India to feed Kathmandu's three million residents. With fuel prices likely to rise, Nepalis will have to pay more for their food in the coming years.
The group is working on creating an organic farm and wants to turn it into a commercially viable venture. They recently built a shed above the vegetable garden to replenish the soil below with manure and urine. They also planted grass on the slopes to hold the top soil together. Water from the kitchen is drained into the garden. Instead of pesticides, the farmers have begun using repellent plants to drive away insects.
"The vegetables we buy from the market are laced with harmful chemicals and pesticides and do more harm than good. By growing our own food we make sure our families are eating healthy," says Sushant.
However, not all of the eight men are full-time farmers. Mahabharat Shrestha works with the state's rural energy program, but dashes off to the farm on weekends. Says Shrestha, "It gives me immense satisfaction to grow my own food, but I cannot commit full-time to farming because it doesn't pay all my bills."
In an effort to decrease the staggering unemployment rate, the government launched a youth self-employment program in 2011, which provides vocational training and loans up to Rs 200,000 to young Nepalis so that they can start their own businesses.
Nirab and friends have applied for the loan which will help them expand their farm. "It's not a big amount, but if you are motivated, then it's enough to get you started," say the farmer-engineers.