In this story, we present you the tales of chauri farmers and the woes of other value chain actors in the Churpi supply chain. With individual interview and in-context immersion, we have stepped into the shoes of many farmers and traders understanding the problems from their perspective.
The tales of Chauri Herders
Chauri herders live a nomadic lifestyle moving their makeshift homes and their cattle every 15 days or so. The weather determines where they shift: in summer they head higher into the Himalayas in search of cooler weather and winter forces them to move down to a lower altitude for pasture. Their five-square-meter homes are made up of wood planks on two sides, woven dried grass on remaining walls and plastic sheets for the roof. Inside, all I saw was three cooking utensils, and a gallon of home brewed alcohol.
Their day starts by milking the chauris who are then set free to roam the pastureland on their own. The process of making churpis is only interrupted for lunch and occasional visits to the pastureland to check up on the cattle. Around 4 pm, the chauris return on their own. The farmers make kholey, corn flour paste, as fodder for the chauris and they are duly milked. Pemba Wangdi, one of the farmers we interviewed, mentioned of his ordeal the night before one of the chauris hadn’t come back for milking. Armed with a small torchlight, he had roamed the jungles only to find out in the morning that it had given birth to a dead calf. We inquired about the normality of miscarriages and were shocked by the numbers. On average 25% of the Chauris don’t give milk in one season – mostly due to miscarriage and unsuccessful fertilization.
Another particular story that awed us was the facts surrounding veterinary care. Farmers complained of sudden fluctuations in milk production even during prime season. Vets we consulted pointed out it could be due to minor diseases or fever. The vet also mentioned farmers are often unable to care for cattle’s broken legs which reduce the lifespan of Chauris. Although cow pox is not widely prevalent, it had affected 17 out of 20 chauris a season ago. Pasang Dorje complained how loss in milk production compounded by heath care bill and chauri’s demise lead him further into debt. Other farmers we enquired reinforced Pasang’s tale of how premature death of Chauri can result in severe loss which often leads to debt.
When we enquired about milk production, we were quite surprised that one chauri only produces about 1.5 to 2.5 liters of milk a day. Over the course of onemilk producing season, which lasts from March to October, one chauri produces about 350-450 liters of milk. All the Chauris the farmers we interviewed had been raising were of the Urang variety, which costs about NRs 30,000 to 40,000. They mentioned of another variety called Demjo that produces 3.5 to 4 liters of milk per day but costs about NRs 50,000 to 60,000.
The Money Trail
A typical supply chain consists of Farmers – Collectors – Traders – Exporters. In some cases, exporters bypass the trader and in others there are multiple traders in between.
In late November, farmers receive an advance from collectors for the churpi. The advance typically is worth the upcoming season’s churpi production. If the farmer cannot meet the production level, then his remaining loan is carried forward to the next year with 18 to 20% interest. Apart from running his household with the advance, the farmer also buys salt and fodder for the Chauris. For a typical herd of 20 chauris, the farmer needs to buy about Rs 50,000 worth of salt and fodder. In one season, a farmer can earn Rs 270,000 to Rs 350,000 by selling either milk to cheese factories or a combination of butter and churpi. Since these farms are operated by a single family with no hired labor, typical family income ranges from Rs 200,000 to 300,000. In addition, chauri farmers supplement their income by raising goats; each goat adds about Rs 5000 per annum.
The collector goes around to different farmers and collects churpis and the butter that the farmers make themselves. Typically the farmer sells 1 kg of churpi for NRs 300-350 while the collector’s selling price ranges from NRs 450 to NRs 525 per kg. If a trader is involved, his margin is about NRs 75 to 100 per kg. The exporters’ typical selling price ranges from NRs 800-Rs 1100 per kg. In USA, churpi retails at around USD 110 or NRs 10,000 per kg.
Collector, Trader and Exporter’s Woes
Since the farmers make the Churpi, each product is unique. There are no standard sizes and color or manufacturing procedure. If stored for a long period, the smoke from firewood-cook-stoves gives churpis a darker color and a smoky flavor. If not stored properly, mold develops. A hole is often drilled in churpis to hang them while storing which could lead to mold formation.
Collectors are forced to buy whatever the farmer produces churpi and butter, because of the advance and the business relation between the two. Meanwhile, the trader can exercise some quality control when he buys from the collector. The exporter’s demand for quality is even higher and they often return bad produce to the collector or trader. Exporters mention that almost 15-20% of the goods they buy are wasted when they fit them in sizes required by American companies. The waste is sold in the local Nepali market for human consumption but at a much lower price. Collectors mention another 10 to 15% is wasted due to mold formation during production or storage.
Since the collector’s live nomadic lifestyles as well, it is very difficult for exporters to locate collectors. As an advance-based business, collectors seek an advance from the exporters but it is difficult for them to trust the collectors. Churpi, that is required for dog chew, is mainly manufactured in eastern Nepal although there are chauri herders in the western part of Nepal as well.
The Long Term Problem
Although the price of yak milk has increased from Rs 2.35 per 1% fat per liter to Rs 7.25 over a decade, the newer generation is not as ready to join this business. At this current rate, farmers make about NRs. 15-20k a month, which is similar to what they would have earned if they had chosen to work abroad in the Middle East or Malaysia. We believe that something other than money is driving people away— lack of facilities. The place our team visited for in-context immersion had 26 farmers with 15-20 Chauris each a decade ago but the number of farmers has decreased to 11. However, the current surge in demand for churpi is expected to drive up the number of farmers. The bright part of the trip was many migrant workers had returned back to herd Chauris as they had seen better prospects here.
Read similar findings at: http://www.hcdconnect.org/projects/facilitating-trader-farmer-interaction/ ...Continue Reading