Nepal’s water in Qatar
The export project was derailed for two years by the pandemic, but Rudra Ganga Natural Water has started shipping Rasuwa: Super Premium Himalaya’s Natural Spring Water to Doha. Eight tonnes of water was recently air-freighted from Kathmandu to Doha in the first phase.
The water samples were successfully tested and certified by Qatari authorities, where the 330 ml and 500 ml Rasuwa bottled water are available at 3.50 riyals ($1) and 4 riyals ($1.4) respectively in supermarkets. The company is planning to export additional 16 tonnes soon, and has got orders for another 50 tonnes to Dubai by March.
“Those countries became rich by selling oil to the world and now we have started selling our water to them where drinking water is more expensive than petroleum,” says Bibi Kharel of New Langtang Himalaya Trading and Contracting, which is distributing Rasuwa Water in the Gulf.
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The sheikhdoms of the Gulf region suffer from some of the most chronic water shortages, and they spend billions every year desalinating sea water as well as in importing bottled water brands from Europe.
Rasuwa is trying to tap into this market by selling the Himalayan and Nepal brands. The exporters say Nepalis in Qatar and other Gulf countries are well regarded, many work in supermarkets and restaurants and can be good brand ambassadors.
"Many Nepalis work in the hospitality sectors and with hotels being one of our biggest consumers we have reached out to our Nepali workers there,” says Kharel who is eying the 2022 FIFA World Cup later this year and the Doha Expo in 2023 to further promote water from Nepal.
He adds: "As tourists from all over the world will be coming for the World Cup, it will also be a marketing platform for Nepal’s water globally.”
However, all is not rosy for a small first-time exporter from Nepal to compete in the West Asian market which has attracted the world's largest water companies including Fiji water and Évian.
Kharel is well aware of the competitive market but is hopeful that there will be greater interest in Nepal’s high-quality chemical-free Himalayan natural spring water collected from springs near Dhunche in Rasuwa at an elevation of 2,000m.
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Rudra Ganga Natural Water, which has a water treatment plant in Dhunche started production two and a half years ago with the goal of exporting water. While the pandemic delayed its initial plans, it is now researching markets including China, Australia and Saudi Arabia for export.
“China has big potential, and we have spent a huge amount of money for the promotion of the Rasuwa Water market in Chinese cities. Our distributor will soon start mass sales in China,” says Ganesh Bahadur Bhandari of Rudra Ganga.
In recent years, businesses have been looking at the possibility of exporting Nepal’s water overseas and experts believe that Nepal can tap foreign markets if it properly utilised the good reputation of Himalayan spring water globally.
Rudra Ganga is in fact not the first company to attempt water export in Nepal. About 15 years ago, Himalayan Spring Water, also in Dhunche, had started exporting water to Korea. But it was unable to continue when its Korean investors pulled out.
The company, which is now owned by businessman Ajay Raj Sumargi, produces water under the Himalayan On Top brand. Although On Top also started exporting to Saudi Arabia and Dubai, the venture has not been as successful.
Bhandari of Rudra Ganga says that high air freight costs from Kathmandu is the biggest hurdle for expansion of the export market adding that it costs them about 60 cents (Rs72) to export 500ml of bottled water to Qatar. “For us, shipping costs are higher than production. Only by reducing it can we reach our potential,” he claims.
Distributor Kharel agrees, it costs the company Rs55 per kg while shipping bottled water to Qatar, which he says should be reduced to Rs35 per kg to make Nepal’s water market competitive. Similarly, he argues that air cargo charges should be waived when exporting water through state-owned Nepal Airlines to support businesses.
“If cargo cost is reduced by half, it will help in the export of other homegrown products too and in destination countries, we need support from Nepali missions abroad to market our products,” he adds.
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There is a cheaper alternative, businesses can export bottled water through the Indian sea ports at 10 per kg but it takes at least 45 days for cargo to reach Qatar via Kolkata, and a month through Visakhapatnam port.
Instead, if the government can make arrangements for exports from the Mumbai port, the goods can be delivered to the Gulf countries in five days.
Nepali workers have played an important role in the transformation of West Asian countries which were built on the blood, sweat and tears of labour migrants. On the other hand, remittances from these workers have kept Nepal’s economy float despite recent crises including the pandemic.
Migration experts say that bilateral agreements between Qatar and Nepal could explore mutually beneficial projects like this that could help Nepal’s economy -- and not just with income from remittances.
Says Bibi Kharel: “We should now think beyond just exporting human resources, we should now be exporting our products too. And this will be crucial in generating reliable foreign exchange earnings and expanding enterprises.”
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