The journey of Ms. Milan Kumari: From a simple farmer to a successful entrepreneur


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Bijayashekhar Bhattarai

Connoisseurs of Golden tea always think of Kanchenjunga Tea House located at Sakhejung, Ilam where buyers like researchers, students, business men and tourist throng to buy scented orthodox tea. The owner of the Kanchenjunga Tea Factory is Ms. Milan Kumari Khatri and those who taste the tea there at the tea house next to her factory always buy at least a bag of Sakhejung tea from the shop.

Orthodox tea has become the identity of Ilam and golden tea is considered to be the dearest and best quality tea among others. According to Milan Kumari, this tea is prepared of green leaf buds though 2 methods into golden and golden needle teas and sold at a price of up to Rs 5000 per kg. Besides, the factory also produces other teas like white, green, special green, premium green, silver needle and black tea. According to her, 60% of Sakhejung brand tea produced is consumed within Nepal and only 40% is exported to other countries like India and in small quantity to Japan, Taiwan etc.

The production process of orthodox and specialty tea is challenging and requires strict quality control all the time. Selling of these type of tea is also challenging and hence such tea production requires huge investment, says Ms. Milan Kumari. UNNATI Programme is noticed to have supported her to achieve this success. UNNATI Challenge Fund (UCF) has supported her in organic quality certification, increase in capacity of the factory and training to the tea growing farmers.  Additional investment was needed for Ms. Milan Kumari who had progressed as factory owner from a general farmer. She told her story about her condition in moving forward as entrepreneur from being a farmer before 2017 January that is when she received the grant support from UNNATI.

She started processing the green leaf once she could not sell the green leafs even at a price of Rs 9/kg. In the year 2001 AD (2058 BS). She had started producing the green tea leafs but did not know the technique of drying and processing them. In the beginning, when the green leaf was sold at a price of Rs 40/kg, the tea was planted on the land used before for cereals production. But the price of the green leaf being sold at a price of Rs 40/kg, dropped to Rs 8/kg when her new plantation started yielding the green leafs, she said. In addition to the low price, the tea factories always harassed complaining of the poor quality of green leafs daily and then she as could not take it anymore, decided to process the tea herself.

Tea processing was not so easy those days and she did not have enough money to invest, she did not lose the courage and made tea drying the green leafs under sun during the day and on the hearth during the night. She started selling around 50 kg made tea in a week drying the buds under hot sun of March- April and started selling in the village the tea dried on the hearth during the months of May, June and July. The benefit was good even when the made tea was sold at a price of Rs 200/kg and the sale of the thus produced tea encouraged her and started making tea by drying on the metal sheets. Ms Khatri, who started processing green leaf produced in own farm, now is processing 120 thousand kg green leaf of around 200 farmers now after support of UNNATI Programme.

She started factory with two small rolling machines and had to wait long time to finish to prepare the made tea. According to her, because of a large rolling machine supported by UNNATI Programme, the processing capacity of the factory has increased not requiring to wait for longer time. UNNATI has also supported with an enzymer machine improving the quality of green tea and special green tea because of retention of greenery of the leafs while drying. Additionally UNNATI has supported other machines like revolving machine, tea sorter etc..

For transportation of the green leafs and made tea to and from the factory, a vehicle has been supported by UNNATI. She told that the vehicle has helped to bring green leaf daily from the newly built collection centre and transport made tea to market. Her factory is buying and processing 120 thousand kgs of green leaf purchased from the tea growing farmers of different groups like Lekali Agricultural Cooperative, Pragatishil Farmers Group and Sirjansil Farmers Group. During the current season, the farmers are getting a price of Rs 40/kg to Rs 65/kg and even Rs 1000/kg for the green buds only for special tea. According to her, she is paying a price for the green leafs to the farmers higher than the large factories. Mr. Tek Bahadur Katuwal, a local farmer informed that they received 10 to 15 Rs/kg more than other factories when they sell their green leafs to Kanchenjunga Organic tea factory and has been monthly selling two to two and half quintal green leafs to the factory in a month.  More than 80 out of 200 local farmers’ tea gardens have received organic certification and rest in in the process to get one. The factory with the support of UNNATI has provided training to farmers on improved tea plucking, garden management, organic farming and organic certification process, vermi-composting and bio pesticide preparation. The factory has provided annual bonus and polythene for the shade to the farmers.

Producing green leaf from the existing own 20 ropanis (1 hectare) of tea garden and additional other 40 ropanis (2 hectares), and 40 hectares of other farmers tea garden has received organic certification through her effort. Certified by CERES (HACCP) Company of Germany, the organic made tea meets the quality standards required for Europe, America and Japan.

All the 8 family members of her family are busily active in the factory and other 13 persons are regularly employed. She informed that during the peak season 15 more persons were employed by the factory.

She told that the compared to before, the capacity of the factory has increased due to day and nights’ toil and success thereafter and annually more than 20 tons of specialty tea is produced in her factory. She expects a sale of more than 40 million Rs worth made tea compared to 20 million Rs before receiving the grant support of UNNATI. The factory itself is exporting tea to Taiwan and USA with 60% of tea sold within the country.

Ms. Milan Kumari’s Kanchenjunga Organic Orthodox Tea Factory has been established now as a model factory for the Ilam district with a support grant of 4,835,424 Rs from UNNATI and her own self investment of around 8.1 million Rs.

She further plans to involve all the farmers in the village to advance towards organic tea production in future. She told of her plan to add more machine/equipments in the factory allotting more priority to sales of organic orthodox tea in national markets.

More stories coming …
Stay tuned!

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