The months of April and May are for the apples to bud in Nepal. This is the time when it is amazing to see the apple trees suddenly flower after a tough life of long winter and give way to their buds. The naked and black trees seem like smiling in mixed purple and white color. Many people must have tasted apples. But having a single bite of original and fresh apple is beyond many Nepalese. Could you imagine that the apples are juicy like the lemons when they are young and ripening. In Nepal, a few places are rich and popular for apple cultivation, namely Mustang, Jumla, Dolpa and Humla. The marpha, golden and red apples are common species of apples found in Nepal.
In Kathmandu and other cities, people buy apples for prices anywhere between Rs. 100 and Rs. 2500 per kilogram (price of May 2011). People from all religions, castes and regions consume apples, especially during the festivals of Dashain and Tihar. Fruit entrepreneurs bring apples from China and India via long routes, using harmful pesticides/chemicals to preserve them for days before selling them in Nepal. Rub the peel of an apple with any material, and you will see the white dust immediately.
But take the Jumla's apples, they are different. Just that they are only trying to get into market with proposals at place from the Prime Minister's Office to London (2010). These organic apples are grown in our land. Most Nepalis, however, never get a chance to taste their own Nepali apples, particularly from Karnali, because of the region’s lack of access to easy roads and markets. At the Nepalgunj airport, a main gateway to Karnali, you will get the white and shining apples for NRs 120 per kilogram (October 2010 prices) without original taste and adequate juice. On the other hand, at the Jumla airport, apples are found in traditional bamboo baskets, wrapped by small pieces of cloth and held by women and children. These apples are characterized by scratches, and are punched and too much wrinkled. None of the customers seems interested to buy or taste them because they are unattractive as people there have not used any preservatives. As strong winds beat the apples, they are wrinkled badly. Like guava in the terai, pieces of apples are thrown everywhere and they are not considered as food or a good stuff to eat or gift to someone. In addition, if you enter the apple growers, you can observe huge piles of apples under the bed or on the floor. There, the price of apples is NRs 25 per kilogram or NRs 5 per piece. If you walk ahead, you can see a few houses with apple chips around the house which is kept open. The sandy and dirty wind blows dirt over them easily. Some people also prepare jam, pickle, and citer (a kind of wine) from these apples. But there is no market at all. All their varieties might be spoiled within a couple of days/weeks.
Let's calculate the production and consumption cost of apples with a layman’s perspectives. Till date, how many tons of apples have we had? Is it enough production for Nepal? Can Nepal export apple? Is it possible to open small and large industries for juice/wine or other things? Will these get the market? Does any multinational company show interest towards our apples? These questions are still unanswered. If answered, it would a no, not possible, because, it is assumed that if Jumla were a hub or a collection center for that (based on accessible geography), there is only limited apples now (estimated 5 tons, calculated by local apple expert).
In reality, there are very limited apple farms and many constraints. They are: i) not proper and result oriented plan of government about it, ii) the former apple farm is in the process of extinction, iii) the agricultural pattern is also changing due to climate change and massive migration, iii) no proper market and promotional activities about apple cultivation, iv) the food pattern is also affected by stereotypes (apple is not considered as a source food), v) the terrace land is empty (which is potential land for apple as experienced in Himanchal Pradesh, India) and vi) civil societies also do not have long term vision to promote apple production.
In this context, neither the Karnali people's food insecurity nor chronic malnutrition could be addressed nor the apple producer (individual/group efforts would be encouraged to continue work on it as a livelihood and entrepreneur option).
Thus, it is already too late to think about production and consumption of Nepali apples in a sustainable way. However, there is still a ray of hope if the political leaders/parties and civil societies of Karnali, Mustang and Manang come forward with single and common voice in the coming days. Meantime, the funding agencies such as UN and others should also think about different strategies while intervening with programs on food security, employment and livelihood activities, to make the people there independent, secure and empowered for a sustainable way for a peaceful, prosperous, equal and just society.