Mrs. Ganesh Maya Shrestra

Ganesh Maya Shrestra has an infectious smile, a welcoming laugh, and a magnetic energy that shines through during meetings of the shareholders of the Sindhupalchok District Wintergreen Distillation Enterprise. It is difficult not to take notice of this woman who takes pride in the fact that she is an enterprise shareholder. This enterprise is part of ANSAB’s “Transforming Local Communities into Enterprises for Economic Security in Nepal” project, which began in December 2007. Within six months of ANSAB’s facilitation, community forest user groups (CFUGs), interested individuals in the communities, a national company that purchases the oils, and workers of the enterprise jointly invested to start up the enterprise.

Previously, Ganesh Maya’s family (consisting of her husband and one son) used to raise domestic animals. During the month of October, the major festival time of the Nepali celebration of Dashain and Tihar, her family used to need to take out bank loans to cover the costs of the Hindu celebrations as they did not have enough income to cover the necessary food and other items associated with the worship.

Ganesh Maya recalls that she attended a meeting where community members talked about the possibility of opening a Wintergreen enterprise. They said that shares were required for startup and the discussions convinced her that it would be successful based on the data that they shared at that meeting. ANSAB had worked with the local communities to conduct a conduct a feasibility study in order to assure them that Wintergreen would be a marketable item. Wintergreen, otherwise known as the Gaultheria fragrantissima species, once distilled, produces oil of wintergreen, which is sold as an essential oil –”essential” in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. Initial studies have held true as the enterprise has already produced about 60 kg of wintergreen oil and the buyer is paying the enterprise higher prices than any other producer in Nepal due to their commitment and performance.

“I like that this enterprise brings work for the whole village,” says Ganesh Maya as she explains that “previously we had to leave the village for employment.” Both her husband and her son are now employed at the Wintergreen distillation plant and, with their employment combined with the income from her firewood collection and the profits from her shares, the family now receives a monthly income of 5000 NRs. “We now have enough income to cover our costs, compared to before and we no longer need to request loans for festival times,” she enthuses.

Inspired by the success of the Wintergreen enterprise, the Sindhupalchok communities also decided to open a bio-briquette enterprise. All of the income earned by the Community Forest Users groups that they receive through the sale of wintergreen leaves to the distillation enterprise is invested in the Bio-briquette enterprise. Bio-briquettes are produced with forest waste produce such as weeds and underbrush that is compressed and extruded it to make a reconstituted log which can replace firewood.

Mrs. Shrestra, who also works at the Bio-Briquette enterprise, also notes that “many people now see her as a leader. I have been very active in the enterprises. I hold meetings and I help in staffing.” She feels that what she provides to the enterprise is “enthusiasm which translates into healthy competition. I like to work hard and people are now competing with me so this inspires everyone to work harder.” She adds that “personally, beyond the revenue, I see the enterprise as an opportunity for women. I no longer need to sit idle at home like most women.”