Commercial apple farming in Manang’s deforested area

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LAMJUNG, APR 06 – A private firm has been found to have started commercial apple and potato farming over 735 ropanis of forest area that was recently turned into agricultural land.

The project was started at the site located 2,850 metres above sea level after cutting down over 2,000 trees, it is learnt. The firm, Agro Manang Pvt Ltd had started commercial farming of hybrid apple and potatoes by tilling the land on either side of the Marshyangdi river in Bhartang, Pisang-1.

The firm said it had acquired the land, which was registered under the joint name of seven VDCs in Upper Manang and later transferred to Manang Marshyangdi Club, on lease for a period of 27 years. While Manang is abuzz with discussions as to whether a professional football club can lease the land under its name to a private firm, Agro Manang’s representative Palden Thopang Gurung claimed that they had acquired the land following all the necessary legal procedures.

“We have no idea as to how the land registered under the name of the VDCs was transferred to the professional football club and how it was given on lease,” said local Sangdo Lama while expressing his confusion.

Likewise, Shiva Regmi, chief of the District Land Revenue Office, said that the land was registered under the name of Manang Marsyandi Club and that he had no further knowledge with regards to the issue at hand.

Meanwhile, sources at the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) said that the company had initially started cutting down the trees without their permission even as all seven VDCs fall under ACAP. ACAP and the private firm had applied for the felling of the trees following severe protest from locals. As the company had stated that they needed to cut down 2,000 trees spread over 281 ropanis of land, Lalit Dangol, Chief Executive Officer of ACAP Manang said that they had sent the application to the central office that had forwarded it to the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) for consultation. However, the NTNC had given permission for deforestation without following proper procedures, Dangol claimed.

Although NTNC had directed the private firm not to cut down trees in “sensitive areas”, including along riverside and sloping terrain, locals claimed that the company had been felling trees in direct violation against NTNC’s directive.   Saying that it was hard to conceive that an organisation established with the sole purpose of conserving nature would so easily give permission for the destruction of a whole forest, Minister for Labour and Employment Tek Bahadur Gurung, who won a seat in Constituent Assembly election from Manang, said that they needed to delve deeper into the matter to find the truth. Meanwhile, Palden Thopang Gurung claimed that the apple orchard that has been started clearing the forest land will be the largest in South Asia.