Ashok Kumar Thakuri is a goat-cheese entrepreneur and manufacturer in Chitlang VDC of Makwanpur district, the destination for team Biruwa on the first of July. The Biruwa team – interns, clients and friends – made a pleasant 5 hours hike from Thankot under the cool monsoon clouds to the beautiful Chitlang valley. The village is nestled amidst lush forests, giving us a fresh break from the bustle and pollution of Kathmandu valley. Nature aside, our primary goal for the day was to reach this successful local entrepreneur, Mr Thakuri, and understand how he got into the business of making goat cheese.
Mr. Thakuri’s base of operation in Chitlang was a fitting location to such an innovative endeavor. Upon walking through the town’s picturesque layout we come across Chitlang’s goat cheese factory and found Mr. Thakuri busy
right in to how it all really started.
Goat cheese is a niche market in Kathmandu; only a small number of locals and international visitors appreciate good goat cheese. Mr. Thakuri though, has been able to cultivate a niche market, which has supported his factory providing a credible example of individual initiative and leadership at the local level, which is especially inspiring given Nepal’s entrepreneurial climate.
Mr. Thakuri was supported to travel to France and then to Belgium to perfect the art of French cheese making. Like so many other Nepalese, rather than face the difficult future ahead upon his return to Nepal, he had made arrangements, taken reference of a Nepali in the foreign country, and was ready to make a living in France or wherever he would end up. However, when the time came, his desire to have an impact in Nepal and be a part of the solution won over. He had conviction to return. This conviction was evident in how he willingly engaged and shared his experience and expertise with random hikers, and it is clear that it continues to motivate him despite the difficulties here.
Mr. Thakuri did not know French, but despite this language barrier he learned the art of cheese making by observing what his instructors did. Often not knowing why certain things were done, and unable to properly ask, he still stuck with it. After a few weeks in France he returned to Nepal, convinced that he could replicate the simple and delicate art of cheese making.
Mr. Thakuri gave us a tour of his facility, explaining us how exactly his business operates. He had a goat farm a few minutes away from his factory, where he had about 70 goats, and whom he says contribute an average of half a liter of milk a day. The goats are fed special grass and beets that produce higher quality milk, which Mr. Thakuri claims is essential for good cheese. Then he led us to his cheese factory which was the building right next to his home-stay house. Provisions were made for hygiene, as we put on hairnets and covered our shoes. The goat milk is pasteurized for hours and let to cool at two different temperatures, one for hard cheese and one for soft cheese. The soft cheese was refrigerated for about two weeks, while the hard cheese was refrigerated for two months. The valley did not have any load-shedding and we began to understand the lure of starting the business in such a location. Mr Thakuri said the cheese could also be cooled down in underground chambers, although there would be added external factors to account for.
Soon after, we were back on the balcony ready to taste the product of the process that we just witnessed. While the hard cheese was difficult to distinguish from local cow and yak cheese to a cheese amateur such as myself, the soft cheese was a completely new product that had a distinguished taste and texture. Moreover, Mr. Thakuri had his own concoction of spices and was used to coat the soft cheese. The spices provided an assorted palate of flavors that was very unique, yet still familiar to the Nepali tongue.
Mr. Thakuri further discussed the hurdles he met in his endeavor and impediments he would meet if he wanted to expand. There is an abundance of demand of this goat cheese from high-end hotels and Mr. Thakuri says there is great room to produce higher volume. When asked what’s holding him back, he mentions his incapability to handle a bigger operation, limitation of equipment, milk yield from goats, and Nepali’s inhibitions to see a fellow countrymen succeed.
We evoked him to think of buying more machines, hiring farmers to raise goats, collaborating with farmers to provide a portion of their milk for a portion of profits, and so forth, but he was very skeptical on its viability. Even after significant efforts to influence the community to teach the technique of cheese making and include them in expanding the business, Mr. Thakuri had not managed to convince anyone. Quality control and the community’s lack of help in seeing someone else succeed is a major hurdle he has to face should he make an effort to include the larger community. If he were able to somehow bring in a special Belgian breed of goat that grew up to 2-3 times that of local breeds and produced up to 6 liters of milk a day, crossing it with a local breed, he would be easily able to expand. His broader social awareness was apparent when he reasoned that having a goat that can grow bigger will incentivize households to rear them, if not for the milk, then at least for the meat.
Mr. Thakuri’s efforts are very commendable. For a Chitlang native to travel and perfect such a fine art of cheese making and bring it to the Nepalese society is a near idealistic entrepreneurial story. Yet it has happened, and there is much we can learn from Mr. Thakuri. His dialogues on developing society collectively, expanding and opening new markets, and benefits of new products for the Nepali society display a level of understanding far beyond that of a regular Makwanpur farmer.
Mr. Thakuri may not have the business panache right now to increase his production and make his goat cheese a regular brand to be seen in Bhatbhateni supermarkets’ shelves but he has great potential. He needs the business know-how, capital, and technical innovations. Nepal’s entrepreneurial environment is in a process of change and there are multiple channels and aids that can help Mr. Thakuri in these areas. Inspirational stories such as these now have to be proliferated and the Nepal mindset on developing entrepreneurship needs a major shift. We are getting there, however slowly it may be.
I encourage you to take a weekend hike through Chitlang valley and taste fresh Himalayan Goat Cheese. Mr. Ashok Thakuri can also be contacted at 9845072137 or 9841252592 or Email Mr. Ashok Thakuri.