The business model of this startup is to bring the best quality honey to the market and help uplift a deprived community in the process.
--BY REBATI ADHIKARI
Bibhuti Neupane had always dreamt of doing something on her own to develop a sustainable business and give back to the community. Though she had thought about getting into business right after completing her college studies, she was able to pursue her dream at the end of 2018 after she and Dr Dibesh Karmacharya, a bio-scientist, founded the startup company Naagiko Honey.
In 2017 Bibhuti was working at South Asia Connect, a US Department of State sponsored programme to promote social entrepreneurship in the South Asia region. One of the targets of the programme was to take entrepreneurship to the community level. Neupane found about the Chepang community in Silinge, Makwanpur and saw business opportunities that could benefit the Chepangs and herself as well.
People from this indigenous community, who still have some traits of tribal living, are considered among the most deprived citizens of Nepal, and are into traditional activities like beekeeping and farming crops like millet and maize, and fruits such as bananas. When Bibhuti approached the Chepangs with her business plan, she found out that they were already selling honey to middlemen who were paying them less for their products and not even on time. The farmers had to work with the middlemen as they had no other way to take their honey to the market.
Noticing this, she came up with an idea to establish an enterprise which would help the community reap more economic benefits and market their high value honey. Before starting the company, she did a market research in Kathmandu and received encouraging consumer feedback for the honey sourced from the Chepangs.
The startup started with a seed investment of Rs 700,000 and began buying Chiuri honey, produced by honeybees from the nectar of Chiuri (butter tree) blossoms, from 10 farmers. According to Bibhuti, honey production in Silinge starts during December-April when the Chiuri flower blossoms. “This seasonal collection is what makes the taste of Nagiko Honey unique,” says Bhibuti. The company collects the honey extracted and processed by the farmers which is then transported to Kathmandu to go through filtration and testing processes before getting packaged as Naagiko Honey. Throughout the season, the farmers extract honey in four lots and the production averages 30,000 kilograms per year. Later the company also started selling honey made from nectar of a medicinal herb called Rudhilo. According to Bibhuti, the honey sold by the company is free of additives and sugar.
“Our products are affordable yet have high quality. So, people who are more concerned about quality, taste and their health form the majority of our customers,” says Bibhuti.
Besides general honey, the startup also sells ginger, garlic and chilli infused honey. The products are available in 200 grams, 450 grams, 650 grams, 1 kilogram and 1,400 grams quantity with the price ranging from Rs 300 per 200 grams to Rs 2,500 per kg. Bibhuti says that Kathmandu valley is the major market for the company at present and its products are also available in places like Pokhara, Birgunj, Butwal and Jhapa.
According to Bibhuti, winning the trust of Chepang farmers was a huge challenge for her in the beginning as the farmers have worked with several middlemen who haven’t brought them much benefits. A young lady who was from a different community, and hence was a complete stranger to them, was sharing a business idea which they have dealt with numerous times in the past. “But we succeeded in keeping our promise to show them that the business deal would prove beneficial for them. It built a trust among the farmers, and as result we have now around 100 farmers working with the company,” shares Bibhuti.
Before starting Naagiko Honey, Bibhuti worked with business accelerators like Rockstart and Antarprerana helping startups in brainstorming business ideas and their company's operation. The experience came handy when she started the honey business. “I had the knowledge on how to move forward. But I was unknown to the daunting amount of effort that goes into running a business until I started the company,” she says. The startup had to overcome initial challenges like managing the financial side, human resources and market needs. According Bibhuti, there were difficulties also in the production interacting with retailers, vendors and managing raw materials. However, the company gradually made its work processes systematic and established a reliable network which has eased the problems.
Naagiko Honey is also active in community development to empower Chepang youth and women and to increase their financial literacy levels. The startup organises various programmes on its own and also collaborates with international organisations. “Interaction programmes are conducted with international experts to increase honey production capacity,” shares Bibhuti, adding, “We are also collaborating with Australian companies to bring machines and introduce modern beekeeping techniques, but the plans have not taken off due to restrictions and other problems related to Covid-19.”
At present, the main focus of Naagiko Honey is to sustain the business. Due to the pandemic, the company’s team has not been able to visit Makwanpur regularly and monitor the honey production. Their plans to increase production, provide training to the farmers, experiment with new products, expand market presence within Nepal and grow the international footprint have been hampered by the current crisis. As the outbreak of coronavirus continues to escalate, Naagiko Honey is facing increasing obstacles in its supply chain and online delivery of products to customers. Bibhuti urges the government to facilitate the procurement of raw materials and ease the restrictions for startups so that they can sustain their business in these difficult times.