Ever since her childhood, Subechhya has seen her father Bharat Basnet, a tourism entrepreneur, hotelier and environmental activist, working for the development of the tourism sector and contributing to employment generation in the country. He has been her source of inspiration and after growing up she decided to follow in her father's footsteps. "As a child, I wanted to support my father in his initiatives after growing up. Besides, I also wanted to do something on my own,” says Subechhya, founder of Kheti Bazaar, a physical and online marketplace for organic agro-products and food items. “I think I am doing what I like and what I have always wanted to do."
Her family also has an organic farm at Gundu, Bhaktapur where she saw her parents and others grow vegetables without using harmful fertilisers and pesticides. Coming from a family with a farming background, the idea of organic and healthy food was already set in her mind. Subechhya, who returned to Nepal after completing an MBA from Germany in early 2010, was also highly influenced by the organic food movement in the central European country.
With these influences, she decided to start an organic store to sell the agri produce of her family farm initially through her father's businesses, like the Kantipur Temple House and Bhojan Griha. So, with an investment of Rs 1 million, she started Kheti Bazaar in mid-2010 with the help of her two sisters.
Initially, Subechhya only used to sell the organic produce of her family farm. Later she realised that many farmers wanted to engage in organic farming but weren't able to do it due to the lack of fair prices and a market. “By creating a marketplace for organic agri produce and food items, we encouraged more farmers to practice sustainable farming,” she says.
Currently, vegetables, fruits, eggs, lentils, rice, spices and even gundruk, among other items, are available at Kheti Bazaar. which is located at Bhojan Griha, Dillibazar.
She has collaborated with two farmers from Dhulikhel and Chandragiri to source the fresh vegetables. Besides, she also sources organic food produce from the hilly and rural areas of Nepal. “The farm at Dhulikhel and Paanchthar are certified for organic farming. Likewise, the owner of the farm at Chandragiri does regular testings of the produce,” she states. She also visits the producers at regular intervals and ensures that the organic farms are up to the mark.
During the initial days of the business, Subechhya faced challenges related to consistency and maintaining the quality of the products. It was initially hard for her to get quality vegetable supplies. In addition, she also had difficulty in negotiating with people. “The vendors did not take me seriously because of their gender biases,” recalls Basnet. However, the situation changed with time. She says that people now take her seriously and she enjoys a good level of support from them.
Another challenge was finding a market as organic food was a new concept for many Nepalis a decade ago. "The awareness about the importance of organic food has increased at present. The market is growing, albeit slowly," says Subechhya, adding, "This challenge is still prevalent. The price of organic produce is comparatively more expensive than non-organic ones. It takes a lot of supervision and hard work to cultivate organic vegetables and fruits." According to her, although the hype is already there, only a few people buy organic food daily.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns and restrictions imposed by the government to curb the Corinavirus transmission had an effect on her business. Nevertheless, she did not lose hope and tried to turn the challenges into opportunities. “I had never thought to start an online store and delivery service. But the crisis showed me a business segment that I needed to work on,” she mentions.
After the lockdown last year, she started the e-commerce platform khetibazaar.com which she says has been a boon for her business. Initially, the online marketplace was flooded by customer orders and it was difficult to handle. At present, her company takes orders every Saturday via Instagram and Facebook and makes deliveries all over the Kathmandu valley. She is also looking to expand the business outside the capital. “But delivering fresh vegetables is a challenge. We are studying this,” she shares. After the commencement of the online marketplace, inquiries from outside the valley about her products have also increased significantly.
According to Subechhya, her business is at a break-even point at the moment. “Neither is there big growth, nor is there a loss,” she says. Nevertheless, she is happy to have a strong customer base for both her physical and web stores. She says that there are customers who have been supporting her from the beginning.
Besides the agribusiness venture, she also takes care of the overall management of Kantipur Temple House, a boutique hotel located in Jyatha, Thamel, which was established by her father. As a businessperson, she feels that the government has created hurdles for entrepreneurs instead of supporting them in a time of crisis. "All types of delivery services were closed and even the delivery of grocery items was difficult during the periods of lockdown and prohibitory orders. Businesses could have been given things such as tax exemptions and subsidies to survive like in other countries,” she says.
Subechhya observes that the participation of women in business has increased noticeably at present compared to a decade ago. She says that young women today are empowered and receive support from their family members so that they can work at their full potential. She believes that family support is the most important factor for anyone in order to progress in business. “I am blessed that my parents, as well as in-laws, are very supportive which allows me to work confidently,” she expresses. She also recalls how happy her parents were when she started the organic store. A mother of two, she loves to read books whenever she has free time. A nature lover, she also likes to trek and travel to different places in Nepal with her children.
Subechhya plans to reopen the physical store next year and says that the construction work is ongoing. Soon, Basnet and her sister are also planning to open a permaculture training centre at their family farm in Gundu. Likewise, she also plans to upgrade the online marketplace and deliver products on a daily basis. As an organic agriculture activist, she aspires to support more farmers in order to promote organic farming.