How a food label is changing lives in mountain communities


Conscious consumerism is on the rise – making a big difference for Lalita and her family

With a narrative label that tells its backstory, Jumla bean sales are up, and business is looking bright for Lalita and her family. ©Organic World and Fair Future Pvt. Ltd.

25/08/2020

The Sinja Valley in northwest Nepal is a breathtaking place with a rich history. Plunging mountainsides and rocky caves hide ruins of grand palaces and temples: remains of the capital city of the influential Western Malla kingdom that ruled the area between the 12th and 14th century.

Nowadays, however, that city grandeur is a distant memory, and farmers in the Sinja Valley are struggling to survive. Isolated and marginalised, like many of the 350 million people that live in mountainous regions in developing countries, they do not have reliable access to food. Their vital ecosystems are threatened by climate change, land degradation and natural disasters, and competition for increasingly scarce resources can lead to conflict or migration.

Lalita’s story

Lalita Rokaya is one of these farmers, living with her family in the Sinja Valley. Lalita’s family mainly grows Jumla beans, a colourful food indigenous to the area. They are a key ingredient in Kwati, a classic soup in the Nepalese mountain area eaten during celebrations and festivals. These beans are crucial to the Jumla district and Lalita’s family and have been the primary source of income for farmers in this Western area of Nepal for centuries.

However, despite the importance of these beans, the communities in Jumla faced significant problems in marketing the product. Lalita remembers when her father would return home from the market with empty pockets. Of the 2 000 kilograms of the beans he would take to sell at the Kathmandu market (more than 800 kilometres from the Sinja valley), he would only sell 300 kilograms. Such circumstances were often a painful reality. Growing up, Lalita was often pulled out of school to help on the farm; the family could barely make ends meet and education was a luxury they could not afford.

The Jumla beans are now packaged with the narrative labels, created by FAO’s Mountain Partnership. This initiative aims to boost the income of mountain farmers living in remote areas. ©Organic World and Fair Future Pvt. Ltd.

Fairer prices for mountain communities

Lalita remembers the day that her family’s fortunes changed. Her local cooperative, the Sinja Valley Group, entered into a partnership with Organic World and Fair Future, an eco-social private company in Nepal that is a member of the Mountain Partnership. They came to a mutual agreement upon the production, supply and marketing of the Jumla beans. In 2016, the collaboration became the basis on which the Jumla beans were granted FAO’s Mountain Partnership Products (MPP) narrative label, an initiative that aims to boost the income of mountain farmers living in remote areas.

Designed alongside Slow Food International, an Italian organisation promoting sustainable products and food chains, the MPP label tells the story of traditional products from origins and cultivation to processing and preservation.

The MPP label helped certify the beans’ originality and high quality, challenging counterfeit products in the market. The Jumla beans also began to be sold at national supermarkets, greatly increasing sales and enabling production to scale up four times in three years. The producers were able to raise the price of the beans by more than 25 percent.

The success of the Jumla mixed beans has improved food security for Lalita's family and community. Many young people, including Lalita, have been able to resume their education and her community has been able to use a portion of their additional income for medical expenses. The women in the community are increasingly engaging in farming along with animal husbandry, an emerging livelihood option for women. 

Telling the story of Jumla mixed beans to consumers around the world has changed Lalita’s life. Now firmly committed to sustainable farming, the 25-year-old is mobilising young people in her mountain community to become involved in growing and marketing local products.

Nepal is one of eight countries in which the MPP initiative has helped mountain smallholder farmers market their products. ©Organic World and Fair Future

Eco-conscious consumerism

Funded by the Italian Development Cooperation and Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Mountain Partnership Products Initiative and the MPP label help consumers understand the work and history behind the product they are buying, and in doing so, guarantee a fair price for its producers. In addition to Lalita and her family, the MPP initiative has helped around 10 000 mountain smallholder farmers in eight countries to market their products.

Mountain dwellers like Lalita and her family are custodians of one of the most important but also most vulnerable ecosystems on earth. Over half the world’s population depends on mountains for water, food, and clean energy. MPP labels help bridge the gap between the important products mountain communities produce and modern consumers. Only a story written by the producers themselves can create an emotional connection, and MPP labels help Lalita and others like her tell it to the world.


Learn more

 

2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land