Himalayan black lentils give Sanjaya hope for the future


Born in the village of Gatlang in the Rasuwa district, Nepal, Sanjaya Tamang is one of his hometown’s youngest farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs. Situated at an altitude of more than 2 200 metres in the north of Kathmandu, bordering China, Gatlang is a touristic village and a home of the Tamangs, a local indigenous community. Sanjaya carries on his family’s traditional occupation of farming, which they have been doing for centuries. 
Sanjaya leads a farmers cooperative called "Snow Land Organic (Jhyolmo)", in which most members are women from smallholder farm families. Together with his fellow co-op members, Sanjaya farms the terraced slope of their territory, where the Himalayan black lentil is a major crop.  

The Himalayan black lentil is a special legume product native to Sanjaya’s homeland. Despite the lentil being a unique food, rich in flavor and nutrition, the community could not make a profit from the sale of it. They had to walk for hours across the terrain of the treacherous slopes to reach markets yet still could not make a profit because of the low prices determined by the middlemen – the link between the producers and the marketInstead, the farmers’ cooperative mostly sold the product by going door to door in the lowland communities and trading the product with rice and other commodities at a cheap rate using the barter system. As a consequence, the production of the Himalayan black lentil was slowly stopping and productivity kept declining. The crop was facing the threat of extinction.  

Everything changed one day in 2016, when Sanjaya received visitors from a private company based in Kathmandu called Organic World and Fair Future (OWF). The eco-social company visited him to discuss the future of his community’s lentil product. OWF introduced Sanjaya to the Mountain Partnership Products (MPP) label and the benefits it could give his product at the market. Sanjaya consulted his colleagues and the cooperative agreed: the MPP initiative could provide a way to overcome their difficulties.  

Currently, the Snow Land Organic cooperative provides their raw black lentils to OWF, who process them, give the lentils the MPP label and market the product in urban centres.  

Sanjaya said that even within the first year of working with OWF and using the MPP label, they were able to evolve from selling their product door-to-door to selling at supermarket chains and increase sales by 20 percent. The label upgraded the lentils to a heritage product that can be marketed to tourists looking for typical foodstuff to take home. Equally important, the label certifies the quality of Snow Land Organic’s lentils, helping them combat fake products in the market. The MPP label has become a success story in the area and helped them to initiate the governments interest.  Through capacity building initiatives, the local government supports Sanjaya and other farmers in their efforts to boost their production, and the community trusts the MPP label. 

Sanjaya recalls the proud moment when he was congratulated by the Minister of Agriculture Development on his achievement in securing the MPP labeling. The minister praised the label as being an asset to Sanjaya’s community.  

With the MPP initiative and through collaboration with other development actors, Sanjaya looks ahead to addressing challenges in his community so that he can completely transform the black lentil crop of his heritage. Through this transformation, he aspires to turn his land of deprivation into a land of prosperity.

Photo from Umesh Lama, Organic World and Fair Future (OWF)

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