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Nepali politicians elects to farm the exotic fruit and create jobs than run for office

Jiwan Prasad Rai in Sunsari September 5, 2022

The rise of the independents in local elections in May showed that Nepalis are fed up with politics as usual. Now, it looks like even politicians are fed up with politics, and are switching to other professions.

There are plenty of examples of politicians who have businesses on the side to make easy money, but Hari Prasad Rai has chosen a cash crop that demands a lot of hard work — dragon fruit.

Rai is a popular politician from the Nepali Congress in these eastern mountains, but he has been increasingly fed up with the way his party is behaving in the governing coalition in Kathmandu by contesting the November elections with the Maoists.

“We cannot exploit the state for personal gain, power is to serve the people, not to get rich,” says Rai. “We all have to be involved in production for the country to be self-sufficient and to prosper. I had to start somewhere, and I chose dragon fruit farming.”

Since dragon fruit is a tropical plant that does not grow at higher elevations, Rai set up his farm in Sunsari in the Tarai five years ago. His profits have been growing, and this year he sold Rs9 million worth of the exotic fruit.

Dragon fruit grows on a cactus that is native to Mexico, and is so named because of its bright red scaly skin. The edible inside is white pulp speckled with black seeds, and has a taste between a kiwi and a pear.

Rai’s plants bear fruit four times a year and a single cactus in his farm grows up to 400 dragonfruits a year, making it a profitable proposition.

What sets his farm apart from the others is the use of space. The pillars for the cactus are spaced 3m apart, and in between he plants other cash crops like asparagus, turmeric, lime and Napier grass that also fertilise the soil.

Rai also uses organic fertilisers, and has his own recipe to ensure that his dragon fruit get balanced nutrients from the soil. In fact, selling fertiliser has become a side business for his farm.

“By carefully designing the ingredients of fertiliser you can produce more from the same plant,” says Rai, adding that water quantity, mulching, weed management and pruning are also important.

Rai is now eager to expand his business and is preparing 30,000 plants for 6,700 pillars in a much larger area at a cost of Rs10 million that requires a workforce of up to 45 farmhands.

“In the next three years, we will be able to produce commercially,” he says.

Once the second farm is up and running, Rai hopes to become the premiere dragon fruit farmer in Province 1, where it has become a popular cash crop. Farmers here say that it is difficult to meet the growing demand with traders and locals visiting the farms to purchase the fruits.

Rai hopes that apart from adding to the production, his farm can help promote farm tourism, become a place for educational visit place school and college students, as well as a viable place for agriculture students to intern at.

In the next five years, he wants to expand his dragon fruit farm even further to employ up to 500 staff, create jobs and be a catalyst for economic growth in the region.

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, and many idealistic people become politicians to reform society and make things better.

But given the state of politics in Nepal with its power games in Kathmandu, for Hari Prasad Rai at least it is fruit farming that has shown what is possible.

Says Rai: “Well have to do our bit. Not just talk and make tall promises at election time.”

Last Updated on: November 4th, 2022 at 8:31 am

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