Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • Big change starts with a small technology- Aashkol


    September 20th, 2017

    Since independence, having had massive development interventions for women empowerment in Bangladesh, but still rural people perceived that technology is something that needs to be handled by men. Similarly, entrepreneurship is believed to men’s sphere. However, aiming to bring some changes in these gendered domains, under EC- PRSIM project (funded by European Commission), we have distributed Aashkol (jute fiber extraction machine) through a joint entrepreneurship model (one male and female member can take lease of the machine fro 3 years). In this entrepreneurship model, women have significant role to play both for unleashing their potential entrepreneurial skills and earn an income. However, it was not easy for community people to see woman leading an enterprise. Sheuli Begum- one of the woman entrepreneurs of the project stated that;

    I am a housewife and people do not see my entrepreneurship skill in positive way. They never encourage to do such thing. Rather people laughed at me. But I know, I can do this.

    Sheuli helping her husband in jute retting

    Sheuli Begum lives in Bozra, Kurigram with her husband and two children. Her husband is a jute farmer, and she is a home maker. From her husband’s income, it is impossible to save any amount for meeting any emergency need. Seasonal income from selling jute fiber, jute stick is also insufficient. Therefore, to meet their regular expenses such as education expenses for the children and medicine for the family members, often they need to borrow money from neighbors. Since they do not have other sources of income, thus it becomes impossible to pay back the borrowed money. Sometimes, she sells her jewelries to pay the indebted money.

    Ashkol is being used for jute extraction

    With such hardship in life, suddenly she came across about a jute extraction machine. She also heard about a project that would select entrepreneur for Jute extraction from their community. She got surprised to know that women would get equal partnership with men in this entrepreneurship. Without any hesitation, she shared her keen interest with her husband. After fulfilling all the requirements and receiving the training, she got the machine from Practical Action Bangladesh.

    During the season, after meeting all the expenses, she earns 1500 taka per day with her jute extraction machine. Since they have got better quality of fiber, thus she hopes to sell the jute fiber with a higher price (in compare with last year). In her words;

    Before, it required many days for jute retting and fiber extraction. Now with this machine, fiber extraction is done immediately and retting also takes less time. Thus, labour and time both are saved. That’s why, we could have made some profits.

    She informs that due to regular rainfall she was unable to dry the broken jute stick. But she has explored an innovative alternative about the raw jute sticks. She has rotten them in compost bin to make organic fertilizer. She will use the fertilizer in the crop. Along with that, she has plan to use the machine in multipurpose way throughout the year to secure income round the year.

    As a concluding reflection, it can be said that women like Sheuli in rural Bangladesh never (or hardly) have opportunity to give a try to develop and run some sort of enterprise. Sometimes, a few of them get development support and try to do like Sheuli in this case. Among them, a few of them become successful (of course many reasons will work behind) and are considered as role model in the community. But there are others as well, who could not make it a success. As many development interventions, now a day are not comprehensive (like in this project, we do not have any activity like community awareness around on gender & entrepreneurship; which  is very important to sensitize the community). Therefore, the problem that Sheuli has highlighted in her first statement will play around and continue creating problems in her way of empowerment. However, we need to continue putting our efforts some way or others. And if we can carefully and dedicatedly deal the issue, then big change may happen from this entrepreneurship initiative around the small technology- Aashkol.

     

    Acknowledgement:
    Md. Rezaul Karim (Community Mobilizer, Kurigram) for data collection & Sayeeda Afrose (Technical Supervisor, Kurigram) for drafting the case study.

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  • Prospects and challenges of introducing new sheep variety


    September 12th, 2017

    Whenever, we try to introduce new technology or new approach in our work, we provide special emphasis on our monitoring work. Recently, one of our MEL team members visited Thanahat union in Chilmar Upazila and interacted with 4 beneficiary households who have received improved sheep variety supports from Pumpkin against Poverty (PaP) Project. The visit has come across number of issues such as sheep rearing practices, challenges going through by the beneficiary, profit they are anticipating and obviously future planning to rear this type of improved sheep. This blog post is based on the reflection of the beneficiaries and observation of the MEL members.

    Being a staff of a technology focus organization, our efforts are always being invested around innovating new technologies that work for the poor or identifying appropriate technologies that have been working for poor for years. Under PaP Project, we have been doing the same. The main focus of the project is to support poor landless farmers- mostly women to produce pumpkin in the transitional land to help family move out of poverty. However, alongside with pumpkin production, there are also some technological supports that project is constantly providing and exploring alternative means of poverty alleviation. As a such effort, we have provided improved variety of garol sheep to some selected beneficiaries.

    The variety has been collected from Rajshahi, and has been introduced with aims to improve breed development (Hyderabad variety, India) in the north-west region of Bangladesh, popularize sheep rearing as alternative livelihood means, facilitate quick income earning by female beneficiary. Keeping these in mind, out of the 399 beneficiary households, only 10 households were given 3 sheep per households. The project has supported BDT 19680 (USD 240) per household and contribution from beneficiary themselves was BDT 5000 (USD 61). The expenses were occurred due to purchasing kid garol sheep, input and feed.

    The visit unveiled that there are two important advantages of this sheep variety. These are;
    • Grows so fast in compare with local variety
    • Eat locally available feed and all types of grass
    A short case on one of the beneficiary could better demonstrate the advantages.

    Golenur with her sheep

    Case of Golenur (35)
    One of the 4 beneficiaries is Golenur(35)- a housewife of Thanahat Union. She received 3 sheep in last week of March 2017. After a few days, she observed that in compare with other local variety her garol variety has been growing so fast. She estimated that the present market value of 3 sheep will be BDT 35000(USD 427). The total investment (from the project and own investment) was BDT 21680 (19680+5000). After 3 months, value of the sheep has been increased at 1.4 times. Most importantly, this variety of sheep eats all locally available feed and all types of grass. That’s why, she is now happy that one sheep is pregnant. She is also planning to increase number of sheep. Once she has the anticipated profit from the sheep, she will buy a milking cow to ensure daily income (by selling milk).

    Her son taking care of the sheep

    However, the farmers also pointed out some challenges that they have been going through. These are
    • Feed demand of new variety sheep is higher in compare with other local variety.
    • This type of sheep is very sensitive and becomes ill easily.
    • Close follow up and care are required for the good health and benefits.
    • Lastly but the least, feed crisis is very high during the monsoon. Poor farmers hardly can manage it.

    The growth of the sheep is really fast. Potential return of the investment is also assumed to be high in compare with local variety. However, the problems which have been identified need to be tackled, particularly alternative feed- for monsoon in particular needs to explored, only then this could be a viable livelihood option for the poor farmers in the region.

    Co-author of the post is Abdus Salam, Coordinator- Monitoring & Evaluation.

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  • Jute for environment, jute for employment


    August 23rd, 2017

    Practical Action, together with Karupannya Rangpur Ltd. – a champion jute product manufacturer, a national NGO RDRS and Rangpur Chamber of Commerce started to bring a significant change in jute textile value chain in four northern districts of Bangladesh. They made a breakthrough against conventional practice of  many years by introducing a new small fiber extraction machine funded by EU.  As a new start-up this season, 62 jute fibre extraction machines serving in four northern districts reached around 1200-1500 farmers. The machine was initially brought from China and further modified by Karupynnya Rangpur Ltd and largely introduced to farmers by Practical Action this year. It can extract 2-3 tons of green plant per day. The machine entrepreneurs charged 1500 taka per bigha (33 decimals) to farmers which is relatively cheaper than their manual labour cost. The operation requires 4-5 litre of diesel fuel per day and four man power (most cases husband and wife are
    entrepreneurs). Let me give a real example of this season. Nurul Haque lives in Vuridhoea village under Lalmonirat District, has 250 decimal arable lands who cultivates two varieties of Jute (Kenaf & Tosha) in his 94 decimal land. He was found enthusiastic of the Kenaf jute variety for its high productivity. Plant height of the jute was 15-16 feet and the fibre was much brighter would obviously attract comparatively higher price. Nurul Haque cultivates kenaf variety in 54 decimals, used the newly introduced semi-Automatic Machine (Aashkol) for separating jute stick and fibre and learned an improved jute retting system in ponds. Normally he used to pay Taka 2,000 to Taka 2,200 labour cost for threshing jute plants of one bigha of land, whereas he paid only taka 1,500 per bigha for using the machine. He is happy with the quality of fibre and extra 280 kg jute this time than the last year. Additionally he sold 55 mounds of  jute stick to a local trader at BDT. 4400 this season. He is expecting more profit of BDT 15000  from his 94 decimal land by using the new machine, new variety of jute seed and new retting process. Particular unique aspect of the machine is to secure eco-friendly jute fibre processing which will require less water, less labour and create less pollution to the water bodies. It will open new avenue for trading jute stick as a new industrial raw material in the local and global market. It will create new employment make our agro-economy resilient.​

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  • From a kitchen worker to an evolving agriculture entrepreneur: an inspiring story of Rudra Chaulagain


    July 26th, 2017

    Rudra Prasad Chaulagain, a 40 year-old man is a skilled farmer, technician and an evolving entrepreneur.  Before 2009, his identity was different – he was a kitchen helper at one of the capital’s hotel casinos.

    Rudra grew up in a low income family of 7. Due to poverty, he was unable to complete his formal education and had to leave his family at 18 to earn a living. He worked in the Royal Casino as a kitchen helper for 13 years.  This due to the national conflict and insurgency and he was out of job and in a state of anxiety over what to do.

    “For 13 years, I only worked in kitchen. I had no other work skills besides kitchen experience. The country was in a state of insurgency and my family was worrying what to do next.”

    At the time, poultry farming was popular all over the country and he too was inspired to take up poultry farming as his new career. He purchased an old house in Godavari, a former VDC (Village Development Committee) of Lalitpur district. With his small savings, he leased one ropani (1 ropani = 508.72 sq m) land and started poultry farming with 1000 broiler and 1000 layer chickens. However, the things did not go as per his expectation.

    Rudra feeding chicken. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “We were unfortunate. We lost most of the chickens to unknown diseases. We could not recognise the actual cause of death on time and even local agro-vet could not help us. We incurred great loss…”

    Rudra and his wife realised that they lacked necessary knowledge and skills to effectively run the poultry business. They thought about switching to dairy . They already had good experience of keeping cows (they had kept one cow for household milk consumption), so they started a dairy farm by buying two additional cows. In the meantime, his wife got information about Practical Answers services being run through a community library from her neighbours. They visited community library- RIRC (READ Information and Resource Centre), Badikhel and shared their story seeking help.

    Rudra participated in the expert interaction on “Animal Health and Livestock Management”.  Under his leadership,  a ‘Professional Farmers Group’ was formed and registered at the local authority  as the local government prioritises registered farmers’ groups while providing services, subsidies and grants. With the help of the CLRC, Rudra was also selected for a two month long “Community Livestock Assistant (CLA) Training”, organised by the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) Nepal.

    Rudra in cow shade. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “I had passion to do whatever I needed to do but knowledge matters in all cases. If you do not have enough knowledge, you will never succeed. I had faced huge loss and economic crisis earlier. Thanks to RIRC Badikhel, without their help I would have never come to this stage. I am here only because of my dedication, family support and most importantly the continuous support and guidance of Practical Answers services run by the CLRC.”

    After being trained on poultry farming, he took it up again. Now, he has 800 layer and 2000 broiler chickens, all healthy. He has also added two more cows to his herd.

    Rudra and his wife collecting eggs. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    Recently, after participating in three day training on “Dairy Product”, jointly organised by Practical Answers services of CLRC and VSO International on October 2016, Rudra has started a milk collection and chilling centre. In addition to 45 litres of milk produced in his own farm, he collects 200 litres milk on an average daily. He sells paneer, ghee and surplus milk from his chilling centre.

    Rudra participating in “Dairy Product” training. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “I feel very happy. Now I am making profit from my business. I am helping other small farmers as well. Now, they don’t need to worry about the market.”

    Now, his children (one son and one daughter) are studying in one of the reputed English medium schools. He has also bought 10 anna (1 ropani equals to 16 anna) land by the side of his house and started kitchen gardening.

    Rudra selling his farm produce to a costumer. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “We are very much hopeful and optimistic about the future. My family especially my wife supports in making decision and managing all the business. We both participate in each and every activity of the CLRC alternately. We also share our knowledge and experience to other community members through the library. In fact, we are indebted by the library and its knowledge works.”

    (Information and photographs collected by Archana Adhikari, RIRC Badikhel.)

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  • Knowledge transforming livelihood


    July 10th, 2017

    “My family needs were escalating every day and I used to wonder, what I need to do to fulfill my family needs,” says 35-year old Kamala Pandey, a resident of Kawasoti-15, Godar, Nawalparasi.

    Kamala Pandey by her cow shade Photo (c) Practical Action/Ananta Prasad

    Kamala Pandey, a mother of three, struggled a lot to meet her family’s basic needs while juggling personal struggles like debt, and other challenges. Her husband who used to support her by running small rice mill was unable to generate enough income to meet growing demands of family. She was frustrated as she didn’t have any opportunity to shape her life and make a right choice to change her livelihood.

    She also thought of migrating to urban areas hoping it will bring new opportunities. However, it was also not that much easy as it requires huge amount of money to migrate to a city and seek opportunities. Financial worries are not new to Kamala, who grew up in penury but she was much worried about her children’s future. She says, “I was not worried about my situation, I was used to living in poverty but I do feel guilty, thinking that whether or not we can raise our children in a better way than how we were raised.”

    She never gave up but continued to work hard and sought knowledge and information on various livelihood options. In the year 2014, she came in contact with a social mobiliser of Shivashakti Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC), Godar, Nawalparasi through her neighbours. Shivashakti CLRC used to run Practical Answers services to provide livelihood related technical solutions to rural marginal community.

    Kamala got training on commercial vegetable farming and off-season vegetable farming. This training was a boon to change her livelihood. She started vegetable farming in 4 kattha (1 kattha equals to 0.03 hectare) of her land and was able to earn NPR 30,000 (100 NPR equals to 1USD) by selling tomatoes and cauliflowers in 4 months’ time. She used to cultivate rice in 7 katthas of her land which used to submerge during the monsoon season. She participated in an expert interaction conducted by the CLRC and learned about suitable variety selection, seed treatment and modern rice cultivation practice. In the same year, her rice production increased by 120 kg per kattha.

    Gradually, her earning increased. She realised that if she had a cow then she would use the straw and other vegetable left-overs to feed the cow and in return get milk and manure. She consulted with the social mobiliser and got information on different improved cow breeds. She bought two Jersey cows. Now she sells 20 litres milk daily and earns NRS 1000 every day. Her monthly average income has soared to NPR 40,000.
    She says, “It seemed a dream few years ago but now it is a reality, like the popular adage bright day comes after dark day, is really true for me.” She adds, “Now I am optimist about the future. My children go to English medium boarding schools.”

    At present, she is the vice chairperson of Phoolbari Women Farmer Group. The group has been registered at the local government body (Local government prioritises registered farmers’ groups while providing services, subsidies and grants). Her husband supports her in making every decision. While she is away for training and other activities, her mother-in-law, though very old, supports her by looking after her children and cooking food for them. She says, “Now things have changed and without my family support we would not have been at this stage.”

    She concludes, “Knowledge really impacts us but it depends upon how we act accordingly.”

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  • Direct seeded rice – A promising resource efficient technology


    June 29th, 2017

    Arjun Bhattarai, a 51-year-old farmer living in Koshi Haraicha of Morang district, grows rice as a major crop in his land. Out of his three children, a daughter and a son are blind by birth. So, with the help of his only wife and some casual workers, he used to grow rice and vegetables in his own 8 kattha (1 Kattha = 333.33 sq. meter) and leased 10 kattha land. They were able to hardly meet their annual household needs. Moreover, technical issues like lack of knowledge concerning cultivation techniques, suitable seed variety, pest and diseases, irrigation facility and unavailability of labour in the time of need have made them more vulnerable.

    Arjun sowing rice seeds using a drum seeder. (c) Practical Action/Prabin Gurung

    He joined a Pilot Programme for Climate Resilient Agriculture (PPCR) -Rice training and demonstration plot activity in April 2014 with the hope of getting technical support to improve his farming practice and productivity while reducing the cost of cultivation.He showed keen interest in developing a demonstration plot in his own land. However, he was quiet hesitant to try the new technology of Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) in his land. He was afraid that whether or not the new technology would give the same production as the traditional transplanting technology.

    What is DSR?

    Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) is a resource efficient technology that can overcome constraints and limitations of traditional cultivation technology. Various constraints of traditional cultivation technology like higher water and labour demand, extra expenses during raising nursery, uprooting and transplanting, uncertain supply of irrigation water and increased frequency of drought has necessitated alternative techniques like DSR that not only reduces the cost of production but also assure its sustainability.

    DSR is not common in Nepal because of lack of technical knowhow, marginal and scattered land, low land holding capacity of Nepalese farmers and poor irrigation facilities. There are some basic requirements for successful direct seeding like, big plot of well leveled land, more than 0.25 ha (1 ha = 10000sq. meter), large enough to use a machine; and good irrigation facility so that the land can be irrigated and the water can be drained easily.

    Before the project intervention, he had also practiced SRI (System of Rice Intensification) with the help of District Agricultural Development Office (DADO) Morang, with a good productivity. However, as it required lot of skill and labourers, he was unable to continue the technology. In this regards he found DSR as a suitable option to conventional transplanting and modern SRI technology. He says, “Though I was confused on the performance of DSR, I found that this technology can reduce labour cost significantly and perform better in poor irrigation facility too.”

    Direct seeded rice seedlings 20 days after seeding

    Usually in DSR, first 20 days after seeding is the most important period and critical for successful establishment. If irrigation water is not under control then DSR plants cannot develop as per the expectation. During this initial phase of establishment of seedlings, irrigation should be done just to saturate the field. If irrigation water is above the saturation threshold, i.e., standing water in field then it affects emergence and early development of seedlings, and the seedlings can even die.

    More yield with less input

    Arjun used to produce 4 mann ( 1 mann =  40 kgs) per kattha but this time he was able to produce 5 mann rice per kattha, also his cost of production was reduced by 25% as he used only two labourers during his entire cropping period.  In DSR, the labour required for nursery raising, uprooting and transplanting of seedlings are saved to the extent of about 40% and up to 50% water is saved as nursery raising, puddling, seepage and percolation are eliminated. The fertiliser use efficiency is increased and early maturity (15-20 days) helps in timely sowing of succeeding crops. Likewise, up to 50% energy is saved because of elimination of field preparation for nursery raising, puddling and reduced water application for irrigation. Even the methane emission is reduced and the soil structure is not disturbed as in puddled transplanted system. And the elimination of transplanting means less drudgery to farm women labourers. Also the cost of cultivation is reduced due to the reduced labour and energy costs.

    Direct seeded rice 40 days after seeding

    Challenges in DSR cultivation

    However, while cultivating DSR, farmers in Nepal face challenges like land topography, irrigation and drainage facility, and availability of inputs like herbicides and lack of technical know-how.

    Weed is a major problem in DSR, and it can be only managed through proper time management, controlling and weed-free irrigation system. Most of the irrigation water in Nepal comes through irrigation canals that are fully contaminated with weed seeds and also this irrigation water is uncontrollable, periodic and not sufficient for good production.

    In this regards, we have identified possible consideration and modification that have to be applied while practising DSR method of rice production in Nepalese context. Based on our experiences, we have developed following intervention to achieve significant results, thereby reducing weed infestation.

    1. Use of Glyphosate: Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that kills all grasses and weed. It should be sprayed before land preparation. However, use of glyphosate should be limited only to those plots which have higher weed infestation and are lying fallow for a long period.

    2. Suitable land selection and Controlled irrigation: Usually DSR can be cultivated in all types of soil and land. However, due to difficulty in irrigation water management, upland lands are more suitable than flood-prone lowland.

    3. Use of post emergence herbicide (15-20days after seeding): Post emergence herbicides like 2-4 D and Nominee gold (Bispyribec) are being used to control weeds. Usually these herbicides are used alone or in combination to bring weed concentration below economic threshold.

    4. Irrigation Water Management: Care should be taken for first 20 days after seeding. After 15 days, seedling phase enters to tillering phase and irrigation management is not a big problem after that. As we select upland land for DSR, we do not have much flooding problem. For the first 15-20 days, irrigation is done just to saturate soil from irrigation canals or deep borings. After 20 days, irrigation and other management aspects are same as traditional/transplanting technology.

    Having learnt about the technical know-how of cultivating DSR, Arjun is happy to continue it over the traditional method. He says, “I was in a dilemma whether or not to try this technology, but now I am confident that I can adopt this technology without any difficulty and even my neighbours are planning to follow this technology.”

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  • Students building nutrition smart communities


    June 28th, 2017

    Malnutrition is the most chronic health problems globally. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in Nepal around 39.9 per cent of national population consumes minimum calories than prescribed. Above 46 per cent children below the age of 5 suffer malnutrition and 45 per cent are underweight while 43 per cent have stunted growth. Of the various development regions in Nepal, the situation of malnutrition is rather worse in far-west where nearly 50 per cent people are consuming fewer calories than that of the prescribed level.

    School goers of far-west, Nepal

    Students, the change agents

    To tackle the problem of malnutrition, POSAN project has tried to build nutrition smart communities through School Led Nutrition System (SLNS) approach where school students are involved in different extra curriculum activities like art, quiz, debate, essay and drama competitions on nutrition theme. Such nutrition sensitive interventions help them understand importance of nutrition and also pass on the message to their families. Students can indeed be the vehicle of social transformation and students of this school in Bajura have proven that. Shree Nepal National Secondary School of Jadanga VDC in Bajura District is a great example of passing knowledge of nutrition to the communities through their students. The school hosts different nutrition themed activities every Friday. The students are learning the importance of homestead gardening, and how the nutritional values in vegetable can affect physical well being. They are also educating their families about the importance of nutrition, and supporting in homestead kitchen gardening. Their parents are more than happy to apply the new found knowledge into practice. In addition to the
    in-school competitions, the project has also envisaged school garden called “live laboratory”, to give practical knowledge to the students and teachers. About two-third schools have established school garden to give practical knowledge to their students. The extracurricular activities related to the nutrition and kitchen garden are well integrated in the calendar of their school.

    Art competition on homestead gardening at a school in Bajura

    Students are also major change agents of nutrition knowledge, attitude,

    behavior and practice to promote nutrition smart communities

    Extracurricular 

    Chakra Bahadur Shahi, has been teaching in the school for 7 years. He leads the Friday nutrition themed extracurricular activities, “We here try and do activities once every week on Fridays to increase student’s awareness on nutrition. These kids are not just enjoying extra activities; they are also partaking in vegetable gardening at home. After these sort of efforts, kids have been really interested in vegetable farming. The kids go on to share the information to their parents and neighbors.”

    Shahi said the school has started the activities since a year and a half now and the impact is huge. First of all, students are capacitated in different extracurricular activities through which they also acquire knowledge on importance of nutrition which is affected by consuming vegetables. The school has also been discouraging consumption of junk foods such as noodles towards which students seem highly attracted these days. Moreover, consumption of neglected food like millet, buckwheat, taro, among others is being promoted through school. One of the students who recently won an art competition on homestead gardening in the school, Manoj Kumar Khadka shares, “I came to know I cannot grow strong if I am not consuming enough nutrition. So I asked my parents to grow vegetables at home. We have taro, radish, cauliflower, and other veggies at home. They are all tasty and nutritious. I also help my parents in kitchen gardening.”

    Farm produces at homestead garden of a student in Bajura

    Learning by doing

    Although the students acquire nutrition and hygiene related theoretical knowledge through their course curriculum, that seems to be insufficient to bring practical knowledge and awareness. Previous researches have demonstrated school as a healthy role model for improved and smart eating where students are key players. Students are also major change agents of nutrition knowledge, attitude, behavior and practice to promote nutrition smart community. It has also been proven that that there is a positive reinforcing relationship between health and learning. Thus practical approaches like “learning by doing” and “doing by learning” have been helpful to influence students and their communities on value of nutrition. If such methods of disseminating knowledge are implemented across Nepal, it can generate about positive effect. The excitement in kids regarding vegetable farming is heightened by the culture of growing fresh vegetables back at home.

    Farm produces at kitchen garden of a student in Bajura

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  • Odyssey to the far west- In search of stories

    Far western region is arguably one of my favorite places in Nepal, regardless being considered one of the most remote and under developed regions of Nepal.  The place never ceases to amaze me.  I was really fascinated by the natural beauty, cultural diversity, ancient heritage and the rural traditions it had to offer.  My first trip was back in 2014 with the ROJGARI project.  So much had changed in the past couple of years; the rough gravel roads had been blacktopped, a tea house had been transformed into a full menu-set restaurant, and a dormitory had been replaced by a standard room with attached bathroom.  It was just surreal.  The beauty of the place was still there albeit the transformation.  Nonetheless, it brought a smile on my face to see development in the region.  Thanks to the effort of all the development agencies involved in bringing the change.  I feel blessed to be exploring the far west yet again, this time for Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project.  I will be on the road  for the next one week documenting and collecting stories from the project sites.

    Dadeldhura right after the shower– Dadeldhura is the most developed district as compared to the rest of the hilly districts in the far western region of Nepal.  Due to the elevation differences, Dadeldhura has a different level of temperature.  We were welcomed by heavy rain followed by cold misty weather.

    Dadeldhura by night– The solar street lamp shining bright, breaking the dark abyss down the road.

    Good morning Dadeldhura– The almost perfect view right before the rain.

    The unpredictable weather of the far west– The weather changed so dramatically (within a couple of minutes) it rained cats and dogs.  After a heavy downpour for almost an hour, spotted this cool looking motion of clouds.  The clouds started dancing gracefully clearing the view of Mount Saipal.

    What is a success story?– A two and a half day workshop on “Telling better stories” was organised in Dadeldhura to capacitate the staff of BICAS project.  One of the topics of the workshop involved ‘storytelling’, which was presented by Sanjib Chaudhary.  The workshop included a wide range of topics from story writing, photography, videography to social media.

    The quest– The beautiful Mount Saipal greeted us with a smile as we embarked on our week-long journey to collect stories from the BICAS project sites.  BICAS project is funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas. The project aims to build the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest based enterprises in the remote mid and far western districts of Bajhang, Bajura, Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu.

    Wheat field in Achham– On the way to Bajura, spotted this amazing field covered with wheat.  According to CCAFS report, the wheat production in Nepal is expected to increase by 2.6 per cent (1.78 million tonnes) in fiscal 2016-17.

    The intermediator– Shanti Katuwal serves as an intermediator in bridging the gaps between the farmers and the market.  Goods are often collected at her collection centre in Bamka Bazaar which are then transported to the market areas.  Katuwal’s collection centre is centrally located which makes it accessible for both the farmers and the buyers.  She makes NRs 15000 (115 GBP) per month from her collection centre.

    Barefoot Agro-vet– Ganesh Bahadur Thapa is the most in-demand man in the village, wandering from door to door treating animals.  Sometimes he gets dozens of calls, he hardly finds time for himself.  His service as a barefoot is highly recognised and appreciated in and around his village.  Thapa is content with life.  He is able to send two of his kids to a school in Kathmandu.  In the future, he hopes to learn artificial insemination, so that he will be able to offer more services to his clients and make more money.  Click here for a video link.

    A happy farmer– Gokul Giri of Budhiganga Municipality- 6, Bajura received commercial farming training from the BICAS project and started growing chilly, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, tomato and peas.  This year he hopes to make around NRs 200,000 (1540 GBP) profits in total.

    Vegetable farming under a poly house– Kailasmandu VDC-5, Bajura was deprived from water facilities until the intervention of BICAS project.  The Multi Use Water System (MUS) project provides farmers the access to safe drinking water and irrigation facilities.

    Agrovet– Dambar Saud supplies quality seeds and agricultural inputs to almost 10,000 farmers.  His service is well received in Bajura district.  With the support from BICAS project, he was able to expand his business by starting an agricultural produce collection centre and a poultry farm.

    Smooth operator– Prem Saud of Badimalika Municipality, Bajura is the proud operator of gravity goods ropeway.  Before the intervention of BICAS project, the produce of Bajura district used to go waste, only very few produce used to reach the market due to lack of transportation.  However, after the installation of gravity goods ropeway the community is taking full benefits of the ropeway.  The produce reach the market on time, likewise, the goods and basic amenities are easily transported back to the communities.  Saud collects NRs 20 (15 pence) for every 10 kilograms of goods transported.  The money collected is for the maintenance and sustainability of the ropeway.

    Face of Bajura– A beneficiary of BICAS project.

    Face of Bajura– A beneficiary of BICAS project.

    Dry tree– Waiting for the spring to come.

    Face of Bajura– A beneficiary of BICAS project.

    A lead farmer– Tek Bahadur Thapa of Triveni Municipality- 8, Bajura built a multi-use water system with support from BICAS project.  He was recently awarded the best farmer of the region.  Thapa has been an influential figure in making his community a vegetable production pocket area.

    Daily chores– A beneficiary of BICAS project with her baby on the back grazing cattle in the field.

    Family business – Deu Singh Saud of Budhiganga Municipality- 10, Bajura (first from left) attended training on vegetable farming facilitated by the BICAS project, and soon after, along with his brothers and sister in law, started onion farming as a family business.  He recalls the times when he struggled a lot finding good quality seeds, they did not have any agro-vets in the area but after the intervention of BICAS project, his life became much easier, he can easily get quality seeds from the nearby agro-vet (in Bamka Bazaar). Saud spent 17 years in India working as a daily wage labourer before starting his own business as a lead farmer.  He is very happy with how the life is treating him at the moment.  Last year his profit was NRs 100,000 (770 GBP).  He is earning more than what he used to earn in India.  He is glad that he made the right decision to come back to Nepal and thankful that he does not have to go back to India anymore.

    Mother and daughter– Beneficiaries of BICAS project.

    Mother and daughter– Beneficiaries of BICAS project.

    The young guns– Beneficiaries of BICAS project.

    Them innocent eyes– Beneficiary of BICAS project.

    Ready, steady and go– Wait! I am not ready yet. Let me fix my hair first before you take my picture.

    Resting in the shade– An elderly woman resting by the side of a road on a sunny day.

    The road to home– After a long week on the road, finally the time has arrived to go back home.  I shall definitely come back to document more of the progress of the BICAS project.  Until then I bid adieu.

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  • What’s next for ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’?


    June 1st, 2017

    Each year the World Bank bring together their country representatives from around the globe to measure progress and push forward on new initiatives.  ‘World Bank land’ in Washington DC becomes a bustling mini-city within a city. Even the bus stops get the messages out.  My favourite this year was Rich countries shouldn’t define poverty for poor countries’world bank

    I was there to participate in a panel discussing the relevance and progress of their four year pilot of the Enabling the Business of Agriculture program (EBA).

    Work began on this in 2013, funded by donors like DFID, USAID and Gates Foundation. It set out to become a high profile global programme that assesses countries regulatory environment for agri-business. The intention is to provide governments and others with information which will help them to make better policy and investment decisions.

    Over the past four years Practical Action has been engaging with this program because we know that:

    1. Farmers and other agri-business players are deeply affected by the enabling environment and, whatever the context, it can have a direct impact on their ability to make money from their activities. Part of this is determined by the regulatory environment, but only part.  Our work highlights many more issues not covered by the EBA.
    2. Regardless of what NGOs think of tools like the EBA, they can be influential, whether we like them or not! The World Bank’s flagship program Doing Business is in its 14th year and has been shown to shape regulation in the 190 countries that use it. So however imperfect, we recognise that this type of information is used by policy makers and investors.

    Throughout the pilot phase the EBA program has had harsh criticism from a high profile campaign Our Land Our Business. This group are concerned that the EBA will “create a race-to-the-bottom between countries as they clamor for World Bank investment dollars”.

    Practical Action has not joined this campaign but instead has been working closely with other INGOs like Christian Aid to engage with the EBA team to push for a stronger focus on:

    • Ending poverty – we’ve argued for the EBA to focus more on those aspects that will promote inclusion, i.e. benefit smallholders and others who struggle to achieve gains from agri-business, particularly women, despite their dependency on the sector for their livelihoods.

    end povertyWe want this ambition to move from obscurity to full visibility. A bit like these pictures I took of the World Bank building during the meetings. A big (literally!) reminder for all of the primary purpose of the World Bank.

    • Long-term environmental sustainability, making agricultural sectors towards fit for purpose in a changing climate. This needs to be bedded into key areas of the EBA (seeds, fertiliser, mechanisation) not sitting on its own, as a special island of optimism without regulatory teeth.

    Agri-business as usual is not an option

    There is global consensus that agri-business as usual is no longer an option. Kristalina Georgieva the World Bank’s CEO, opened a packed session on “The Future of Food” with a strong call for changes to a failing food system. We’re interested in how the EBA can support (as opposed to undermine) those changes to happen. The ‘Our Land our Business’ campaign is deeply concerned that it will exacerbate the failings of the food system. We are more optimistic. Over four years we’ve had some good conversations with the EBA team. However it’s been challenging for them to incorporate feedback because of their very tight data collection schedule and the limitations of the tool, because the donor mandate of the project means the focus is solely on regulation.

    EBA2017-Report17 1It is encouraging to see that in this recent progress report  attention is given to both environmental sustainability and gender. The EBA team are clear that it’s still very much work in progress. They are moving the program to biennial data collection and reporting which is very positive because it means they can take some time to address the more challenging issues. This is vital if the EBA is not to skew decision-making on agriculture in the future.  For the next phase of this program as they continue to develop and expand it there needs to be a clear intent to deliver:

    • Deeper engagement and meaningful consultation in-country – dedicated to incorporating views of agri-business and civil society as well as public actors.
    • More attention on inclusion and environmental sustainability – integrate them properly into the EBA so they are in the data sets and scores which will get the attention of policy makers. Make them what this is about. It’s a great opportunity for the EBA to make the shift that is needed actually happen.

    It is so important for users and supporters of the EBA to take a balanced approach, given that regulation is a very small part of the picture when it comes to an effective enabling environment for agriculture. In particular the World Bank and the EBA donors should focus on delivering the SDGs by supporting wider investment in processes that will shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable agriculture.

    For Practical Action that means investing in systems that rely on fewer external inputs, creating lower risk agriculture for the majority.

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  • Telling better stories


    May 26th, 2017

    After a long 1.15 hours flight and 5 hours ride in a pickup truck, we reached Dadeldhura, which will be our home for the next three days.  Dadeldhura lies in the far-western district of Nepal and holds many historic significance.   As I was told by one of the locals, Amargadhi Fort in Dadeldhura was built in 1790 AD by General Amar Singh Thapa to serve as a military base.  During the unification of Nepal by then King Prithvi Narayan Shah, General Amar Singh Thapa fought the British troops from this very fort.  That’s some interesting piece of information there!  I really didn’t know about this until now.  The story somehow was vaguely embedded in my head, I guess we read it in our history class, during our primary days but now the story became as fresh as a daisy.  I just couldn’t wait to see the fort.  I wonder if that’s when the world knew about the bravery of we Nepalese???  Made me scratch my head.  Nevertheless, I was not here to dig the history, neither was I here to find the answers to my own questions.  I was here for a training workshop on “telling better stories” for BICAS project staff and partners.

    BICAS project intervention in the far west

    Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project is funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas. The project aims to build the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest based enterprises in the remote mid and far western districts of Bajhang, Bajura, Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu.

    Building capacity of staff is an essential part of an organisation

    Telling better stories- A family photo

    A well-trained and well-qualified workplace definitely boosts the efficiency of an organisation. Therefore, to enhance the abilities of staff and to encourage them to reflect their attitudes and beliefs; a two and a half day workshop was organised in Dadeldhura. The participants were from the Nepalgunj cluster office and partners/ project coordinators from BICAS project. The workshop included a wide range of topics from story writing, photography, videography to social media.

     

    Day 1- Nepali Braveheart: A thought tickler

    The session kicked off with an introduction, followed by a story writing session; which was later followed by photography and video making sessions. I could sense a strong enthusiasm amongst the participants. They seem very eager to learn the practical hands-on tips. We tried to make the sessions as informal as possible, as we did not want to restrict the workshop within the PowerPoint slides and lengthy speech. It was more of an open platform where one could ask questions and/or share experiences on similar topics. The first day went by in a blink of an eye. I could tell from my previous experiences that the first day is always fun and easy-going. The most challenging is always the next day, as the participants start to wear off – lose their focus and things start to get monotonous. It was in the back of my head but I did not bother to think about it. As the clock ticked five, we wrapped up the session and called it a day.

    L-R: Statue of Amar Singh Thapa, Secret tunnel of Amargadhi Fort

    A bunch of us decided to go for a walk to refresh ourselves after spending the whole day inside a hall. I would never dare to go for a walk while I am in Kathmandu, thanks to the pollution and the crazy traffic of the K-town. But the air in Dadeldhura was so fresh and clean. We walked out from the hotel and went all the way up to the Amargadhi Fort. We spent more than an hour walking around the fort. One of the police guards was generous enough to show us around and explain the details of each and every corner and the architectural built. The most interesting part was the tunnel which was built in such a way that it was connected to a water resource. As we were told, this passage was used by then queen whenever she had to go for a bath or by the armies to fetch water. You can never tell from the outside that the tunnel leads to a water source, it was quite fascinating. The whole tour seemed surreal to me, I felt like I was one of the soldiers from the Anglo-Nepalese war.  I read about brave Amar Singh Thapa during my school days and now I was at the same place where all the magic happened. Seeing his statue at the main entrance even left me awestruck. There are so many similarities between Amar Singh Thapa and the character of William Wallace from the movie, “Braveheart”- the same determination and resistance. I was just there staring at the statue of Amar Singh Thapa and seeing him as a Nepali William Wallace. After dinner I was just hanging out in my room and a random thought came in my head – how cool will it be if I was to make a Nepali Braveheart? I am sure it will be epic – easier said than done. That can go in my bucket list AKA fantasies (I’m just a dreamer).

    Day 2- The unpredictable weather of the far west

    I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm. I checked the time on my cell phone and it read 6:30 am. I could hear the heavy pour of rain from inside the room. I just wished I did not have to get up at all. After aimlessly staring at the ceiling for half an hour, I finally managed to get off from my bed. I opened the door and it was raining cats and dogs. In the corner of the balcony, there was a big pile of hailstone, which looked like a mini Mount Everest. I took out my camera and started taking pictures of the magnificent landscape of Dadeldhura from my balcony. I did not bother about the rain; I was going crazy with my camera. There was something very unique about the landscape; it was priceless. I just could not get enough of it. Before I realised it was actually raining, I was already half soaked. I am glad my camera was water-proof though. I felt like a stubborn kid enjoying the early monsoon rain.

    Clouds in motion as seen from the hotel roof

    We were informed that we would not need any warm clothes for the trip. During March usually the weather is nice and pleasant. But somehow I did not want to take a risk. I had my warm jackets and boots with me. The last time I visited the far west (two years before); I regretted not caring any warm jacket. One of our partner office colleagues was kind enough to lend me a jacket- that was a life saver. “Once bitten, twice shy.” I was well prepared (just in case). The rain was battering the roof like a bullet. There was no sign of rain stopping anytime soon, it was hammering down relentlessly. I could feel a gust of cold wind on my face. At least for once I was glad I made the right decision. Usually, I tend to over pack and half of the stuff I never use it. What’s even more interesting was that the field office colleagues were also fooled by the unpredictable weather of the far west. They thought the weather would be pleasant, so they did not bring any warm clothes. As the day progressed, it became even colder. By evening, it was crazy; the rain kept pouring and the temperature dropped like a rock. It was freezing cold. So, these three blokes had to go buy a sweater for NRS. 1500 (11 GBP) each. They said it was the best buy ever (with a satirical smile).

    The second day was a bit mellow and less hectic. My colleague Sanjib Chaudhary opened the session highlighting the importance of social media in the development sector. It was well received by the participants. The later session was followed by hands-on tips on film making. After lunch it was more of a practical session. The participants were divided into three groups and were sent to the nearby location to collect stories, pictures and videos of their interest.

    Day 3- Here comes the sun

    I slept like a baby. It always takes a while to get used to the new hotel bed. Finally, after two days, I guess I slept well. When I woke up it was already 7:30 am. I peeped through my window curtain and much to my surprise there was the sun shining bright. I was so happy that the sun was here, FINALLY. Now, I can relate why George Harrison wrote “Here comes the sun” with the Beatles. Ever since we stepped in Dadeldhura it was raining like crazy and finally we were able to see the sun. The feeling was just amazing. I was already late for breakfast though. I had to rush myself, got ready and met the folks downstairs for breakfast. By 8 am, I was all ready and having breakfast with my colleagues.

    Today was the final day of the workshop. We reviewed the stories, photos and video clips of all the groups and gave feedbacks and comments.

    Adieu – Until we meet again

    Our two and a half day workshop was coming to an end. All of us enjoyed our stay in Dadeldhura amidst the crazy weather. I hope the workshop was a fruitful one. We never know until we see the end result from the participants. Fingers crossed, I hope our effort will be an aspiration for all the participants to produce the quality output that we are aiming for the BICAS project. I just cannot wait to read the first post-workshop story/ blog and/or see the pictures they send. Until then all I can do is wait patiently.

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