Super Shoppers
Super Shoppers

Hate grocery shopping for the family? Imagine shopping for 10,000
families! That’s what UMN’s Arun Belbase and Suresh Bhattarai found
themselves doing, after the April Earthquake. It was a far cry from
their normal roles as Advocacy Team Leader (Arun) and Livelihoods Team
Leader (Suresh), but they did a terrific job.

“We really had no idea what we were getting into,” says Suresh. “Everyone thought procurement would be easy.”

and Suresh are “lunch buddies” – you’ll often find them in the UMN
garden chatting over their chapatis. So when Suresh was assigned to the
procurement team following the earthquake and started to get frustrated
because there seemed to be a lot of talking and no action, it was
natural for him to share it with Arun. “Well, let’s do something!”
replied his friend.

They began to check out the prices of goods
in Kathmandu. “I went to the place where my wife buys goods,”
remembers Suresh. “I asked about bulk sugar. The guy said: ‘How much
do you want? 10 kg?’ When I told him I wanted 10,000 kg, his jaw
dropped!” It soon became clear that they weren’t going to get the
quantities they needed in Kathmandu, so they shifted their attention to
the Terai (the southern plains). Arun had contacts there, and so did
Ramesh, one of UMN’s drivers.

So the three of them set out early on Saturday morning, with NRP 10,000 (USD 100) in their pockets and a change of clothes.

They soon discovered that procurement is NOT easy!

breakthrough was meeting a broker in Narayanghat. Hearing that this was
for the relief effort, he was tremendously helpful, giving them tips
and sharing phone numbers and contacts with them. They visited various
vendors, told them the situation, inspected their warehouses and learned
a lot about buying food. Throughout, they insisted on good quality.
“We wouldn’t buy it for the relief if we wouldn’t buy it for
ourselves,” explained Arun.

By Sunday evening they had placed
their first order, for 11 tonnes of sugar and 6 tonnes of beaten rice.
But they still had no money! This was a big problem, as the vendors
refused to deal with them without cash. Peter (UMN Kathmandu) was
phoning and emailing instructions, but what with Peter’s Irish accent
and poor connectivity, communication was difficult. Shopping by SMS
seemed to be the best bet.

So far, they’d ordered 4 truckloads
of rice and needed 12 more. They were also investigating plastic buckets
and kitchen utensils. A nearby Indian market looked promising, but the
problems of getting truckloads of goods over the border meant sticking
with Nepali providers. Suraj from Rupandehi joined the team; his local
knowledge was invaluable.

Meanwhile, the Dhading team was under
considerable pressure from local authorities to deliver food. But the
vendors refused to release the trucks until they’d been paid. This was a
very tense time, with marathon phone calls. Getting funds to flow was
difficult, as finance people were using a “business as usual” model –
it was just too slow. Arun, Suresh and Ramesh offered themselves and
their UMN 4WD as “collateral” but still the trucks were stuck. Dhana
in Dhading rang the vendors and begged and pleaded – to no avail. At
last, UMN released funds into Arun and Suresh’s personal accounts, so
they could pay a deposit, and confirmation came from UMN’s bank that
the funds had left there. The trucks were rolling!

The team was
hot, tired and dirty. They’d been working long days, rarely eating a
proper meal before 4:00pm. But it was all worthwhile when they arrived
at the Dhading warehouse, at 11:00pm. Volunteers were still there, ready
to unload, and motorcyclists provided light with their headlamps.

first phase procurement is now completed, largely thanks to Arun and
Suresh, Suraj and Ramesh. Now the challenge is to buy vegetable seed and
basic tools for agriculture and construction. “Now we think it’s
someone else’s turn,” says Arun. “We’re happy to advise.” Suresh
agrees. “It’s not like shopping at Bhat Bhateni,” he says with a

NOTE: Bhat Bhateni is a well-known supermarket chain in Kathmandu.

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