Migrant worker finds farming in Nepal more rewarding

Bishnu Bhujel has returned home to farm and rescue his family from bankruptcy


Farm entrepreneur Bishnu Bhujel did everything to not be a farmer like his parents in Sarlahi. Subsistence agriculture had ruined them, so they could not even send their children to school.

Bishnu migrated to India for work when he turned 20 so he could support the education of his young siblings. He worked as a carpet machine operator in Banaras, a mechanic in a furniture factory in Rajasthan, and then repaired diesel generators for a living.

Confident of his hands-on technical skills, Bishnu returned to Nepal to start his own furniture shop in Kathmandu. But running a business was tougher than he expected — operating costs were high due to long power cuts, staff salaries and high rent, and the furniture market was highly competitive. Profits were marginal and Bishnu lost all his savings.

He then joined a local handicraft factory, where he made wooden buttons for shirts and tools for singing bowls. The salary was so low he could not even afford rent, so he started a bicycle shop, bought a taxi and ran a vegetable store. But after piling up debts, he sold all his businesses.

Desperate, Bishnu decided to go back to farming as a last resort, even though he knew the pitfalls. “It was risky. We had heard stories of how small farmers struggled, but we went ahead because we had run out of options,” recalls Bishnu, now 49. He scouted around Kathmandu Valley and finally found an unused farm in Jharuwarasi, 20km outside the Ring Road in Thaiba Municpality. He and his wife Sanu leased 0.3 hectares of it for Rs100,000 a year.

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They first built a small tin house and tomato greenhouses. But the 2015 earthquake struck, and there was no irrigation and no electricity. “All we had were candles and the moon for light — and this was just a few kilometres from Kathmandu,” Sanu recalls.

“Sanu and I are hard-working, and we were forced to be creative to survive.

This was a big test for both of us,” says Bishnu, who then lobbied endlessly with the local ward office to get the electricity they needed to pump water for irrigation. Today, the family has electricity, a sufficient supply of water and a dirt road, which they built themselves so buyers have access to their vegetables.

“Finally, it has worked. We are not rich but we have now enough income to sustain our lives, educate our children and have a decent life,” says Bishnu, whose family also opened a small grocery to generate additional income.

The success of the Bhujels has been an inspiration to many local residents, a majority of whom are not using their land for commercial farming but prefer to lease it to migrant families.

Bishnu notes the irony of it all: “I abandoned farming, but it is farming that has saved my family from poverty.”

Last year, the family was able to earn Rs400,000 from the tomato patch, double the initial investment. “Farming can be profitable, but you need patience and hard work. It takes time but it is well worth it,” explains Bishnu, who hopes more Nepalis will choose to remain in the country rather than migrate to toil in the desert, far away from home.

Sanu agrees: “The young generation is restless, and wants to make quick cash. They need to be entrepreneurial so that they don’t have to migrate abroad and suffer hardship and financial risks.”

Journalist-turned-farmer Naresh Newar is starting this fortnightly multimedia column, Made in Nepal, in Nepali Times with this first instalment. The columns will deal with success stories of small entrepreneurs in Nepal.

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