Championing indigenous mountain beans improves livelihoods in Nepal


Lalita Rokaya is a 25 year old farmer living in the Sinja valley of the Jumla district, one of the most remote mountain areas in Nepal. She lives there with her parents and three siblings in their small village. She studies part time, but spends most of her time farming and herding cattle in high mountain pastures. Lalita grew up in a marginalized family who faced food insecurity, illiteracy and health problems due to the lack of income from insufficient production of their main crop: Jumla mixed beans. Lalita and her siblings had to drop out of school numerous times to help their parents on the farm. 

Located at an altitude of 2 300 metres, the Sinja valley is home to Jumla beans, a mixture of black, red, yellow and spotted beans, unique in composition, taste and nutritional value. The beans are an indigenous food linked to the culture and religious festivities of the areaThey are a key ingredient in “Kwati”, a mixed bean soup, which is a classic Nepalese mountain recipe that is eaten during the celebrations of the Janai Purnima festival. On the day of the festivalNewar famers worship the frog and eat Kwati to help bring rain and good harvests, as the frog is thought to be the messenger of the god of rain. These beans are crucial to the Jumla district and Lalita’s family because they have been their primary source of income for centuries. 

However, the Jumli communities faced a significant problem: marketing the product. Lalita remembers when her father would return home from the market with empty pockets. He would take 2 000 kilograms of the beans to sell at the Kathmandu market, more than 800 kilometres from the Sinja valley, but only 300 kilograms would be sold. Such circumstances were the painful moments of her family’s bitter reality.  

Lalita recalls the historic day in 2016 that would change this reality. Her local cooperative, the Sinja Valley Group, entered into a partnership with Organic World and Fair Future (OWF). They came to a mutual agreement upon the production, supply and marketing roles and responsibilities of the Jumla beans 

Lalita says, "This was the day we celebrated because we saw the future market prospect." 

The collaboration became the basis on which the Jumla beans were granted the Mountain Partnership Products (MPP) narrative label, which tells the unique story of mountain products, enabling consumers to make informed purchases by learning about products' origins, processing methods and role in local cultures.  

Lalita and the other producers felt honored to see the MPP label on their beans, and their product was greatly benefitted. The MPP label helped certify the beans’ originality and high qualitychallenging counterfeit products in the market. The Jumla mixed beans were able to sell at national supermarketsgreatly 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 Jumli farmers thank the MPP label for the beans’ successThey report that the MPP label’s improved consumer awareness and product transparency. The producers say that the narrative label not only bolstered the Jumla beans’ reputation, but also drove many service providers – including the Government of Nepal – to help smallholder farmers boost their productivity.  

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

Lalita says that the newfound success of the Jumla beans at the market has helped conserve her local culture and heritage. Local farmers have seen the value of producing and selling the beans and are now more committed to the sustainable production and conservation of this ancient crop.  

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

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