There is something inherently elitist about labels like ‘expat’ and ‘diaspora’. They refer to skilled Nepalis studying, working or living abroad and not to the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers when, in fact, both are just individuals moving out for better opportunities.
But Nepal’s migrant economy has also opened up new business prospects, as Kalyan Ghimire discovered. It was during a trip to Qatar to organise a musical event for Nepalis that he saw a market for ‘nostalgic products’ like dalle khursani and gundruk among the 400,000 Nepalis in Qatar.
“On one hand, I saw Qatar’s reliance on imports of vegetables, especially after the embargo, with a high share of Nepalis as the consumers of these imports,” Ghimire explained. “On the other hand, farmers in Nepal were destroying produce using dozers to protest low prices.”
Although he had little experience in the trade, Ghimire set out on a mission to play the role of a link by establishing Al Saman International. His business intuition told him Nepali migrant workers could be customers, marketers and advisers. Nepalis work in just about every sector in Qatar, and through them he was able to establish networks with higher-ups who make procurement decisions.
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Ghimire’s son Saman is based in Qatar and now in charge of marketing Nepali produce. He says: “Nepali workers were reluctant in the beginning to believe that it was do-able. But once they saw the possibility, they are doing everything to help us.”
It required just the first few orders for the business to take off. Nepalis were the biggest consumers and helped spread the word. A wave of selfies by migrant workers next to ‘Nepali Vegetables’ signs proliferated on social media. The red hot dalle khursani chillies have been a particular hit, including among Pakistanis.
“Word of mouth and social media did wonders in expanding our consumer base,” says Saman Ghimire, who adds that Nepalis working in supermarkets go out of their way to help spread the word. “A Nepali bhai in one mart even changed the placement of our vegetables as he thought they were not visible enough.”
Ghimire’s Facebook account now resembles review websites like Yelp. Workers send unsolicited reviews and advice. One of them reads in Nepali: “I was at the Able mart the other day where special vegetables from India and Bangladesh were being sold. There was a huge crowd of buyers there, including Nepalis. I recommend you to explore this possibility.”
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