Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • 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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  • MasterCard Young Africa Works Summit


    May 26th, 2017

    Earlier this year I attended the second annual Young Africa Works Summit in Kigali, Rwanda hosted by MasterCard Foundation. The theme of the summit was built around shifting discussion from how to engage youth in agriculture, to youth as drivers of agricultural transformation. The summit explored three sub-themes that contribute to agricultural transformation, gender, technology and climate-smart agriculture.

    Almost a third of participants were young people from across the continent of Africa.  They shared their experiences, successes, challenges and innovations in agriculture related businesses. First of all, I was impressed by the confidence displayed by the young people presenting  in front of an international audience and how they challenged some of the ‘norms’.

    Key from all the presentations was how technology can act as a huge incentive to attract youth to take up agriculture as a business. Rita Kimani, Co-founder and CEO, FarmDrive uses new data­ driven technology to increase the availability of capital. Her work focuses on leveraging technology to enable smallholder farmers in Africa to achieve sustainable livelihoods.

    Alloysius Attah, CEO and Co-founder of Farmerline from Ghana, founded Alloyworld, a photography and video production company, and iCottage Networks, a Web and Mobile startup. Brian Bosire, Founder of UjuziKilimo, an agricultural technology company that brings affordable precision farming to smallholder farmers in Kenya, enabling them to produce more from their farm, curbing hunger and food insecurity. UjuziKilimo uses sensors to analyse soil and farm conditions to provide real-time, precise, actionable recommendations over mobile phones to rural farmers who lack access to extension services and information on weather and markets.

    On gender Pilirani Khoza is the Founder of Bunda Female Students Organisation (BUFESO), an organisation that supports disadvantaged university students at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi. Concerned with the lack of women participating in higher education, she empowers young girls to pursue studies in science and agriculture by helping to fund their tuition and other fees.

    My key takeaways from this summit were;

    • Let youth lead development of agri-business by creating an enabling business environment for them to exercise their innovativeness and experimentation
    • Technology plays a very important part in providing incentives for youth to participate in agriculture
    • Government is key to creating an enabling environment for youth-led agri-business to grow (very few African governments are doing this)

    Here are some inspiring quotes from the event.

    “We are all leaders and the role of leaders is to connect the problem to solutions.”

    “Technology is our mother tongue.”

    “If you are not in love with a farmer, raise your standards.”

    “If you can’t fly you can run, if you can’t run you can walk, if you can’t walk you can crawl, if you can’t crawl whatever you do keep moving!!”

    Learn more about the event on the Young Africa Works website http://youngafricaworks.org/resources/

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  • With improved agricultural practices, farmers in far-western Nepal are avoiding the seasonal exodus to India


    May 25th, 2017

    The scene was heart-breaking. A group of women and children were running after a bus while the men were waving goodbye from the vehicle. I was witness to this scene almost two years ago during a field trip to Achham in far-western Nepal. The women and children were crying and so were some of the men. They kept on running after the bus till it was out of sight.

    Relatives of foreign-bound men running after a bus carrying the seasonal migrants. (c) Bishnu Paudel

    According to my colleague Bishnu Paudel, the men were leaving for India. He said, “The belief is that the more people come to see off a foreign-bound man, the more fruitful will be his stay in Mumbai and other cities in India.”

    It’s not an unusual scene here in this part of Nepal where hordes of men leave for India every year to earn a paltry income. This practice of seasonal migration hasn’t done much good to the people of this region. In India they engage in and hold petty jobs of a janitor, dishwasher, porter, and a factory worker among others and get harassed, despised and scolded at a drop of a hat. When they return from India, they bring a meagre amount of money but also the dreaded HIV and AIDS with them, not to mention the Hindi words and accent that’s ubiquitous in the far-western Nepal.

    This year, when I returned to Bajura district, the scenario was a bit different. I interviewed some beneficiaries of BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project. They have resolved not to get back to India but to work in their own land for a better future.

    Here are their stories – straight from the horse’s mouth and how the project has supported them to lead a dignified life.

    Dambar Saud chose to stay in Nepal. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Supplying quality seeds and agricultural inputs to farmers

    Dambar Saud, an agro-vet at Bamka Bazaar, chose to stay in Nepal and start a business selling agricultural inputs, equipment and pesticides. With support from BICAS, he expanded his business and later diversified his business by starting an agriculture produce collection centre and a poultry farm. He now earns enough to lead a contented life.

    I was lured to go to India but now I’m happy with my income,” he said. “My peers want to copy my ways.

    Providing technical support to farmers

    Chitra Bahadur Bishta, a farmer from Bail of Budhiganga Municipality-7, went to India 22 times and each time he worked in different localities as a watchman staying awake throughout the night and washing vehicles. He also worked in restaurants.

    When everyone slept, I had to stay awake and many times I cried,” he said.

    However, he hasn’t returned to India after he started growing vegetables one and half years ago. Having received technical support from BICAS, he has been growing tomatoes and other vegetables.

    Now I feel happy to see the plants bearing fruit,” he told with a twinkle in his eyes.

    Tek Bahadur Thapa, an award winning lead farmer, is an inspiration to fellow farmers. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Building irrigation facilities for better productivity

    When we went to Tek Bahadur Thapa’s farm in Triveni Municipality – 8, he was tending to the saplings of bottle gourd and bitter gourd. Nearby were rows of fruit trees.

    Thapa, a model farmer who recently received an award from the President for being the best farmer in the region went to India at an early age of 8 years. One night while he was sleeping, the ‘seth’ (master) he was working for knocked on the door but he didn’t wake up immediately. When he woke up, his master slapped him for not getting up on time. He was meant to drive a rat that was running around in his seth’s bedroom!

    He then returned back to Nepal. When everybody was leaving their homes during the Maoist insurgency, he started growing vegetables. And he hasn’t looked back since.

    We built a multi-use water system with support from BICAS,” he said, pointing to the reservoir. “We now have sufficient water for irrigation.

    The 25 families in the area are planning to turn it into a vegetable production pocket area. An inspiration to other farmers, he has vowed never to return India for work.

    Delivering services at doorsteps

    Deu Singh Saud, a lead farmer from Budhiganga Municipality-10, is farming vegetables with his fellow group members Dan Bahadur Budha, Kamala Saud and Buddhi Singh Saud. He worked in India for over 17 years and since the last 10 years he hasn’t returned back to India.

    Deu Singh Saud is happy with his group farming. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    According to him, when he started farming there was no agro-vet and it used to be a hard job getting good quality seeds. Then he started getting the seeds from Saud Agro-vet in Bamka. Thanks to BICAS, now he gets quality seeds at his doorsteps from barefoot agro-vets, paying only 20 per cent of the actual price. He also gets technical advice from these agro-vets.

    Although he can’t read and write, he easily earns over NRs 100,000 (1 USD = NRs 103) per year from the farming.

    It’s better to farm here,” he said. “I could only earn around IRs 2,000 (1 IRs = NRs 1.60) per month in India.”

    Ignorant of the seed varieties earlier, he told us name of several varieties of vegetables suitable for farming in that region.

    I can do anything here,” he quipped hinting at the long working hours in India. “I can work as per my plan and I can rest whenever I get tired.

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  • Lights, Camera, Action: Reflections from the Access Agriculture video training in Bangladesh

    It is very easy to make videos with your mobile phone but when your aspirations are to share the film globally, and with a specific audience in mind, it is not

    Over the last two weeks colleagues from Bangladesh and Nepal participated in a video training workshop provided by Access Agriculture in the Northern part of Bangladesh. Access Agriculture are a key partner of Practical Answers, our technical information service, providing and sharing technical solutions to solve agricultural challenges!

    Practical Action staff learning how to use video

    The training took place over a 12 day period. Four trainers, from England, Belgium and Kenya, led the course- they were very friendly, and ensured an engaging and insightful experience for all involved!

    Prior to the training we selected, among our colleagues, three video topics: 1. Rearing sheep and goats on a raised platform, 2. Mango grafting and 3. Sorting and storing pumpkins. Before filming it is important to have a good script ; we discussed our prepared scripts so that we could receive feedback from the group.

    The video production process consists of:

    • Issue selection
    • Research desk work
    • Script writing 1st draft
    • Feedback from specialist or relevant persons
    • Recce (the process of visiting and quickly looking around a place in order to find out information)

    The recce process was  very new to me. After visiting the site we revised our scripts as we had gathered new information that would enhance the original drafts. In between this time we prepared some questions to take to interview: why should you store pumpkin, which pumpkins can be stored, how to protect pumpkins during storage etc. Then we went for filming.

    Around 280 clips of footage was collected in four days, ranging between 2-8 minutes in length. At this stage 70% of work is completed within the production process. The remaining 30% consists of:

    • Input footage-logging/selecting
    • Transcription
    • Translation of audio
    • Incorporating translations into the revised script
    • Record voice over
    • Final edit

    We used an editing software called Light Works, it is interesting as tasks are auto-saved. However, before editing we need to arrange the files into a specific computer drive. We learnt that for structured content it is important to consider using subtitle, voiceover and interview-translation using different voices. When using graphics you should consider cutaway pictures and moving shots. You should be aware of issues such as the height of the camera and ensuring there is action in the frame. You should also consider having music, title captions, name captions, background sound and edit credits.

    When taking footage it is important to understand the different types of shots, they are:

    • GV: General View
    • VLS = Very Long Shot
    • LS = Long Shot
    • MLS = Medium Long Shot, it also call 3/4 shot
    • MS = Mid Shot
    • MCU = Medium Close Up
    • CU = Close Up
    • BCU = Big Close Up

     

    When taking a shot we used a tripod to ensure the filming was smooth, and not shaky!

    Our video on pumpkin sorting and storing will soon be available online in French, Bangla and English. This training course was a fantastic learning opportunity, and I look forward to putting my learning into practice! These newly acquired skills will allow us to better share knowledge in video format! Videos produced will be shared through the Access Agriculture network meaning our technical knowledge and experience can be used by many more practitioners.

    Visit Access Agriculture to learn more about work, and future training opportunities.

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