Hailing from a farmer family, this inspiring entrepreneur is working hard to grow her online agribusiness.
In 2014, Nisha Taujale KC had leased 20 ropanies of land at Tokha, Kathmandu, to grow pesticide-free vegetables and shiitake mushrooms. She worked as a farmer for three years and learned about the problems and scope in agriculture. Like other farmers, she faced problems related to workers and lack of fair prices for her agri produce. She then saw an opportunity to build an online marketplace to connect farmers with urban customers who were looking to buy quality agri produce.
In 2017, Nisha and her husband Bhuwan KC started Kathmandu Organics as an online marketplace where farmers could sell produce directly to the customers and get a fair price for their hard work. The idea was to collect vegetables from farmers and sell the agriproduce to customers.
“In the beginning, we worked with farmers around Kathmandu valley and helped them connect with the consumers. Moving forward, farmers from different districts reached out to us,” she says.
She and her husband collaborated with farmers, cooperative institutions and other agribusiness entrepreneurs to create a sustainable value chain and did thorough research about product development before commencing the online marketplace.
Starting from fresh vegetables, a variety of food products ranging from frozen fruits to different types of meat, honey, spices, grains, locally produced jams, dairy products, chocolates and pickle were added to the inventory of Kathmandu Organics. Nisha says that the marketplace enables consumers to buy food items that are grown organically and are free of preservatives and artificial colouring.
Before getting into agribusiness, she worked at WorldLink Communications as a branch manager and as chief operating officer of Ecoprise, a renewable energy company.
Nisha’s keen interest in agribusiness is basically due to her family background. She came from a middle-class farmer family in Kavre. The youngest among four siblings, she completed her high school from her hometown Banepa and graduated in business studies from Tribhuvan University.
Kathmandu Organics sources products in different ways -- directly from farmers, and from cooperatives and local wholesalers. According to Nisha, prices of the food items are determined in advance and payments to the suppliers are made in two to three installments depending on the quantity and nature of the products. They also work with smallholder farmers who use traditional farming methods to grow vegetables and fruits.
“Currently, Kathmandu Organics has over 400 types of food products sourced from suppliers of 44 districts and we will keep on adding products,” says Nisha.
Initially, she faced challenges related to sourcing of products and logistics management. It was difficult to ensure the farmers received a good price for their products. Similarly, identifying good quality products was also challenging. Besides, logistics was also a challenge as she was buying in small quantities from the farmers.
Te severe economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic presented an opportunity for entrepreneurs like her to expand the business. However, restrictions imposed by the government in the name of controlling the spread of coronavirus have erected huge obstacles for online businesses, according to Nisha. “The World Health Organization (WTO), universities and international research institutions have identified e-commerce and online delivery services as safer business alternatives during times like these. Unfortunately, there is an opposite understanding of online business among bureaucrats and politicians of Nepal,” she says.
Despite obstacles created by the government policies, Kathmandu Organics has been trying to get the agri produce from farmers and deliver them to customers.
During normal times, Kathmandu Organics makes 50-60 deliveries daily which would double during the main festivals. “We are also receiving a very high number of orders at present but are unable to make all the deliveries due to the restrictions,” she says.
According to Nisha, Kathmandu Organics has made more than 70,000 deliveries from its central store in Dhumbarahi since their establishment and the company’s business has grown by 50 percent every year. There are 12 people working for the company at the moment. Nisha informs that the company also outsources delivery services to logistics companies to make deliveries timely and smooth.
Although Nisha’s core focus is on growing the online business, she also operated a physical store at Naxal before the lockdown last year which has now been shut down. “The growth of online delivery of grocery items is slow compared to electronic items, personal care items and apparels as most people still like to go to the market to buy groceries. So, we opened the physical store,” she shares.
Being an e-commerce platform, Nisha says that the company’s entire focus is on digital marketing to promote its services.
A hardworking and persistent individual, she believes self-confidence, passion and open mindedness are some of the important qualities a person needs to have to become a successful entrepreneur. She says that having supportive family members who have always supported her decisions has helped her in her personal and professional growth.
She observes that the participation of women in business and other fields has increased in recent years with the growing acceptance of female leadership. However, the government’s support has remained lacklustre in terms of women empowerment. The Covid-19 crisis has proven devastating for women entrepreneurs. Decades of gains in women entrepreneurship have been badly impacted as more women find themselves surrounded by economic and financial problems.
Nisha says that the relief measures announced by the government such as collateral-free loans at low interest rates are simply insufficient to support women entrepreneurs given the gravity of the current crisis. “Even there are doubts about the implementation of the announced programmes. So, there should be a proper policy and a separate mechanism in place to help women-run businesses and startup companies to stay afloat during these difficult times,” she suggests.
She thinks that the post-pandemic world will be different, and the government and stakeholders need to focus on enhancing the education system to make the human resource available in country competitive. “We need to raise the bars of employability and professionalism among the fresh graduates. It should be understood that only earning academic degrees will not be enough to guarantee jobs,” she says.
Nisha, who loves to spend her free time with her family, aspires to expand Kathmandu Organics to different cities of Nepal and to also start an export business in the future. “We are planning to export authentic Nepali products to different countries,” she concludes.