Keeping The Doctor Away : Buddhi Ratna Sherchan

September 16, 2013 , by Sewa Bhattarai, Leave your thoughts
Keeping The Doctor Away : Buddhi Ratna Sherchan » My Dreams Mag

Buddhi Ratna Sherchan is a horticulturist. He is credited with starting the cultivation of apples and other temperate fruits in Marfa of Mustang, which went on to become famous all over Nepal for their firm texture and sweet taste.


At the age of seventy four, Buddhi Ratna Sherchan still gets up at 2am every morning. “How is that possible?” I ask him. “Easy, I sleep at 8 pm” he answers with a mischievous grin, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He showers with cold water every day, and is fit as a fiddle, and still working actively with and for farmers. And the secret of his fitness? “Plenty of exercise, and a healthy diet consisting of only natural foods” he answers. “Processed foods do not give you a balanced diet. We should learn to appreciate our own produce, instead of gorging on packets of chips and burgers.”

Perhaps the emphasis on healthy food is not surprising for the man who first cultivated apples in Marfa, which are now famous all over Nepal for their superior taste and texture.

When he started out as an assistant horticulturist in 1966, his salary was 475 rupees per month, and gold was 200 rupees per tola (11grams). Back then, nobody had attempted cultivating any alien fruits in Mustang. “That is because most agriculture graduates of the times were Brahmins and Chhetris and Newars who were not from the mountains. Naturally, they did not want to go to the barren lands of Mustang,” says Sherchan. But Sherchan himself was from Kobang in Lower Mustang, a village nestled between Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri on the banks of Kali Gandaki. He had gone to Kathmandu for education in his sixth grade, and went on to do bachelors in agriculture from Bhuwaneshwor of India. After his graduation, naturally he wanted to return to Mustang.

Buddhi Ratna Sherchan

At first, he was stationed for a year in Pokhara, where he worked at the Citrus Research Centre. Since 1961, a farm in Mustang was in the works, but the plan had not been executed due to lack of experts. Just a few months into his job in Pokhara, Sherchan began researching for his post in Mustang. As a student, Sherchan had visited the hills of Kashmir as part of his all-India tour. There he saw that even in sloping mountains with snowfall, apples and other fruits can thrive. That was what inspired him to try it in Mustang.

Being beyond the Himalayas, Mustang falls under rain shadow area. As a result, it gets very little rainfall. Lower Mustang gets 55-60 cm inches per year, and it gets lesser and lesser as you go north. Marfa only gets about 25 inches of rainfall every ear. For many months, it snows there. In this context, when he proposed his idea of cultivating fruits in the arid Mustang, he faced a lot of opposition, especially from elderly local farmers. But Sherchan knew that necessary irrigation could be provided from the rivers that tumbled down from the Himalayas, and persevered in his plan.

Cultivating something completely new had some unforeseen challenges. A lot of cultural knowledge accumulates regarding crops that have been cultivated for generations at one place. Farmers, for example, had accumulated strategies of how to cultivate potatoes, how to protect them from the cold, and how to save seeds for the next year. But there was no such information available for apples. Sherchan had to experiment, find his own ways, and train farmers on the new ways. In winter, he stratified the seed by creating layers of seeds and sand, and letting the snow fall on top of it. This cold treatment was necessary for the seeds to sprout. Without it, the seeds may not sprout for several years in very cold climates. 

Buddhi Ratna Sherchan

In no time, his apple cultivation was successful, and it took off in the local population. Sherchan started experimenting with other fruits like peach, pear, etc, which were all successful. Sherchan believes such fruits can be successfully cultivated in most dry regions in the west, while tea, coffee, and cardamom thrive in the wet eastern hills. In fact, Nepal is so diverse that all kinds of fruits, from the tropical mangoes, pineapples and lychees, to sub tropical guavas, to temperate apples, pears, to alpine almonds, walnuts and pistachios, can be found here.

Despite such potential, our home grown produces often cannot find takers, and are wasted where they are grown. When asked why that was, Sherchan grew serious. “We need many roads, on the Kali Gandaki corridor perhaps, through which these perishable goods can reach costumers overnight,” he began. “These roads can also help us export to India and Tibet, as I believe we can produce enough for ourselves and left over as well. Only then can our agriculture be economically viable. But many industrialists of remote areas thrive on the trek trade. They fear that if roads reach remote areas, tourists will come and go by buses, and not stay in their hotels. So they unite to delay the construction of roads in their areas. And sadly, most of the powerful people in remote areas, including the scholars and politicians, are hoteliers,” he finished.

This is again testament to how people, especially youth, are ready to take up any profession but agriculture. Why is that so? “For that, our youth need to be encouraged” said Sherchan. “They should be given training, and if they cannot be given employment, they should be given land where they can put their training to use. But having just specialists is not enough, they should also be provided with workers who will till the farms, and funds with which to pay them.”

Buddhi Ratna Sherchan

I asked him what he thought of the new-found craze for chemical fertilizers among young farmers. “Chemical fertilizers, once used, leave residues on the produce. From them they seep into our air and water” Sherchan explained. “Pesticides sprayed over our food are sometimes not washed properly, and find their way into our bodies. Once their level rises beyond our immunity, they cause many diseases. The best way to avoid this is to practice farming and animal husbandry at the same place. That way, animal wastes can be used as fertilizers, and the by-products of horticulture can be used to feed animals. That way, there will be no need of chemical fertilizers.”

Sherchan revealed that he himself is actively involved in educating the younger generations on the right ways of agriculture. He is an advisor and teacher of floriculture at Shree Jana Adarsha Higher Secondary School in Mustang, which has more than a hundred ropanis of land. After the school buildings and hostels are built, the school plans to plant fruits like apples, peaches and pears on the ground. The students will gain a practical experience there, which means that if they do not get higher education in future, they will already have skills under their belt.

Apart from his teaching, he is the president of human resource recruitment at Mustang. In his seventh decade, Sherchan looks twenty years younger. His active and disease-free life itself is the most vibrant proof of the benefits of his healthy diet. And so we left him, still going strong as a man half his age.

Buddhi Ratna Sherchan


Texts by: Sewa Bhattarai
Photograher: Bikkil Sthapit
Stock Images: Shutterstock

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