Originally Published 12/6/13 by Rudra Pangeni
JOMSOM, Dec 6 : Sea-buckthorn berries – locally known as Tora fruits – were not of much use for local women of Jharkot in Mustang district until 2008. Though they used to collect berries to produce massage oil, they were not aware of the benefits that the wild fruit could bring to them.
But things changed when the local Gurung and Thakuri women underwent a training to prepare squash from sea-buckthorn berries that were going to waste. Today, the squash prepared from sea-buckthorn berries is supplied to department stores in capital and other urban centers.
Sri Muktinath Tora Juice Udyog, which is operated by Muktinath Cooperatives, produced squash from sea-buckthorn berries, and supplies the product to market in different parts of the country. The product is retailed at Rs 160 per bottle (500 ml).
The cooperative has 58 women – all of whom are women.
Sea-buckthorn berries grow at an altitude of 3,500 meters or above and are believed to be rich in Vitamin C.
“The fruit has empowered us; we no longer depend on our husbands,” Maya Gurung, secretary of Muktinath Cooperatives, said. “Also, we are not limited to household chores.”
The cooperatives sold squash worth Rs 4.48 million this year. Bhat-bhateni Department Stores is among the leading buyers of the sea-buckthorn squash, according to the cooperatives.
Sri Muktinath Tora Juice Udyog currently employs 11 executive members of the cooperatives including Gurung. They pocket salary of Rs 2,500 per month. All 58 members of the cooperative collect wild berries from nearby forest and sell them to the factory. They get Rs 150 for a kilogram of berries.
Harvest of sea-buckthorn berries start form mid-August.
“All our members get equal benefit,” said Gurung. Twelve liters of juice can be made by processing 15 kg of fresh berries. Local women prepare 200 bottles of squash by using 28 liters of sea-buckthorn juice, sugar and other ingredients.
Food technologist Prof Bhismananda Baidya provided consultant services to the local women in the squash preparation process.
Amar Bahadur Shah, chief of High Mountain Agribusiness and Livelihood Improvement (HIMALI) Project said Baidya played a key role in developing entrepreneurship among local women by encouraging them to undergo squash preparation training some five years ago.
The HIMALI project, which is funded by Asian Development Bank, is providing Muktinath Cooperatives a grant of Rs 4.2 million to purchase bottle blower machine, build a house for the industry, and arrange irrigation for berry bushes with sprinklers and pipes.
“The local women are good at team work. They are united and very much transparent in financial matters,” said Shah. Gurung said that they have targeted to produce 500,000 bottles of the squash worth Rs 20 million within the next five years.
“We have also urged HIMALI to provide gas operated stoves to boil fresh juice so that we can reduce the use of firewood and be environment friendly,” Gurung told Republica.
Genevieve Cahill, agribusiness capacity development specialist of HIMALI, said local women can earn more amount of money by producing oil from sea-buckthorn seeds. “The oil is used in production of cosmetics. It costs Rs 20,000 per liter in the international market,” she added.