Promoting traditional foods and recipes along with product diversification and well stated nutritional value information could be the right approach to enhance conservation and use of underutilized traditional crops and ensuring food and nutritional security of the people.  In this context, organizing food fair has been recognized as a very useful approach to promote and re-introduce traditional foods among consumers, sensitize people about its nutritional value and generate public awareness regarding the importance of traditional recipes, foods and crops.

In this regard, the Government of Nepal’s Department of Food Technology and Quality Control organized a three-day national level food fair at Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu from 23 to 25 March 2018 in collaboration with national level stakeholders and organizations. The major objective of the event was to create awareness of the value of local indigenous foods and edible products of different ethnic groups along with their associated knowledge and information, and promote them among wider masses especially targeting urban populations. This national level event, which was attended by several governmental officials and stakeholders, was inaugurated by the honorable Minister of Agricultural, Land Management and Cooperatives, Mr. Chandra Pani Khanal. With diverse participants representing different ethnic groups, farming communities, entrepreneurs and institutions from all over the country, this event had a total of 71 different stalls, which were exhibited under three categories: Information Stalls, Food Stalls and Product Stalls. Different types of traditional, ethnic and modern food recipes and products were displayed, served and marketed by diverse stakeholders representing rural food entrepreneurs, ethnic and cultural community organizations, rural cottage industries (“Gharelu Uddhyog”), organic producers and entrepreneurs, homestay groups, and national food technology and research institutions (e.g.  colleges, research centres and Food Technology & Quality Control Departments).

Information Stall LCP-LI-BIRD Team. Project staff providing informations to the visitors about local crops and their diversity, Photo: Rajeev Dhakal, LI-BIRD

Representing all four working sites by mobilizing farmers’ groups and local entrepreneurs, the UNEP-GEF funded Local Crop Project (LCP) participated in the event. LCP had taken this opportunity to demonstrate its effort to wider mass by displaying, advocating and serving traditional foods and related knowledge materials. The LCP team highlighted the project’s interventions in order to promote and conserve local crops (project’s mandate crops) and foods through the information stall. The Information install was well decorated with diverse information materials regarding food security and local crop conservation and promotion along with diversity display of traditional mountain crop varieties. More than 700 (55% male and 45% female) visitors visited the information stall of the project. 208 visitors collected informative materials along with mini kit of amaranth seed. Mainly students, teachers and food-product entrepreneurs were among the common visitors while development sectors were more interested in technical part and publications. Cultivation practice of project mandate crops, food recipes of finger millet and community seed bank related publications were the most popular materials distributed from the stall. The LCP Information stall was awarded with a token of love and certificate of appreciation for providing diverse knowledge and information materials regarding food security, traditional crops and agro-biodiversity management.

“Ghanpokhara-Roplefant Home Stay” group from Ghanpokhara Lamjung project site, which is technically and financially supported by LCP, also participated in the fair and served unique and diverse local food recipes from local crops which includes “Kaguno ko kheer” (Foxtail Millet Porridge), ring breads from finger millet “Kodo ko Sel”, local rice “Chamal ko Sel” including other local recipes such as “Allu-Niguro ko Tarkari’ and “Gundruk ko Achar” to the visitors. Representing the group, Gurung women decorated in their traditional dress were too busy serving “Kaguno ko kheer” and “Kodo Sel” and providing the general information of Kaguno crop to the visitors. Meanwhile, the LCP site staff Mr. Shreeram Subedi was expending his time on elaborating LCP interventions to promote Kaguno in Lamjung site to the visitors. The homestay team earned around Rs. 10,000 from foxtail millet porridge (“kaguno ko kheer”) and sold 15 kg of processed grains of “kaguno” at the rate of Rs 200 per Kg. Besides that, “Kodo ko pitho”, “Faparko pitho” and beans from the LCP Dolakha site; and Jumli beans from LCP Jumla site were also sold from the same food stall which was coordinated by the Dolakha farmers Ms. Goma Jirel and Ms. Meena Jirel. The Homestay stall was awarded the second position in the food stall category for promoting traditional crops and foods, and received a certificate, token of love and monetary prize as well. After receiving the award, Ms Ratna Maya Gurung from Lamjung team thanked the LCP team for its continued support and for providing them with opportunity to participate in such a national level forum.

Food Stall-Ghanpokhara Team: A visitor buying Kaguno Porridge. Photo: Niranjan Pudasaini, LI-BIRD

The GEF UNEP LCP site Humla also supported and facilitated the participation of local food entrepreneur, Mr. Mukunda Rokaya (proprietor of “Subarna Simikot Khadya Uddhyog” of Humla) to display and market local food products derived from traditional mountain crops, with well labeled packaging and branding. Mr. Rokaya sold local food stuffs of prosomillet, foxtail millet, fingermillet, buckwheat and barley from Humla for around Rs. 30 thousands (USD 3000). He sold about 60 kg of milled Chino grain (Proso Millet grain) along with foxtail millet grain (Kaguno rice), Kodo (finger millet) and buckwheat flours, barley roasted flour. He was very pleased by the three day business of local food products from high mountains of Humla. He mentioned that these kinds of events are very helpful to promote underutilized nutrient rich crops in urban areas and also helps to develop market linkages among diverse entrepreneurs and learn about the potentiality of the local crops for product diversification.

In aggregate, the fair was effective in demonstrating the value of diverse local food products within a single spot, and creating awareness and linking among diverse group of stakeholders and consumers at the centre of the country. Many modern/processed products from underutilized crops like finger millet and buckwheat noodles, barley cookies, multi grain (Kaguno, millet, barley etc.) muffins and cookies and Kaguno salad were served during the event by various participants/entrepreneurs. The visitors were pleased to relish the taste and learn about unique food recipes and crops which indicates good future of these local products in urban areas. Many organic stores in Kathmandu like Farmers to Finger, VEDIC and Kathmandu Organics are promoting these underutilized crops by product diversification and seeking new technologies to scale up. In order to learn about the constraints and potential of value chain and marketing of the traditional underutilized food crops, a quick survey was also conducted among the local food product stalls during the fair. Out of the 71 stalls representing foods, information and product stalls, there were only 10 of the stalls serving traditional underutilized food crops with their local food recipes and products from different sectors and locations in Nepal. The survey findings shows that all of the respondents (10 out of 10 surveyed stalls) reported lack of proper awareness among users and poor reliable information dissemination of the value of local food crops, which have, thus, created a gap among producers, vendors and customers. Better coordination among value chain actors of local products was realized to tie up the chain of production, collection and marketing. Organizing frequent food fairs in major market areas, mass awareness message flowing via electronic media and reliable organic certification were highlighted by most of the entrepreneurs in order to assure dependable market of these traditional crops. Product diversification and attractive packaging and labelling with nutritional value can really help to increase the utilization of local foods and products. Though several food technology colleges, food research division of NARC and few private entrepreneurs have conducted work on product diversification, effort seems less but indicates huge potentiality. As customers are slowly attracted towards organic and low calorie food products, these traditional mountain crops/foods can grab their attention if proper efforts are made.

Product Stall-Humla Entrepreneur trading unique and under utilized local food products with well labeled packagings. Photo: Niranjan Pudasaini, LI-BIRD

The food fair was also helpful in providing wider exposure to LCP site farmers especially women farmers from Lamjung and Dolakha sites. The participants are highly motivated by realizing the value and scope of traditional crops and foods. Ms Goma Jirel, one of the participating farmers from Jungu, Dolakha, stated “I have realized the scope of these traditional food and crop in urban areas. I’m amazed to see modern products like noodles, cake and cookies of buckwheat and finger millet. If proper link are established, we can sell our local products to urban areas easily and earn money.” Along with award, exposure and experience, it is expected that they will carry and convey positive messages to local communities in working sites and relay it to others as well for promoting value chain and mainstreaming underutilized local crops.

Local Crop Project (LCP) is funded by the Global Environment Facility, implemented by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and jointly executed by Bioversity International, National Agriculture Genetic Resources Centre (NAGRC) – Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC), the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD).