Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • DAIRY – Empowering women


    June 12th, 2019

    Few months back, I was visiting one of the project sites where we are supporting smallholder dairy farmers, particularly in better production techniques, access to improved breeds, improved extension services, and inclusive value chain development. During the trip I came across many smallholder dairy farmers – each one of them had a story to tell. One of them was Mina Bohora (39) from Madhyabindu Municipality – 4 of Chitwan District in Province 3.

    Mina with her cows.

    Mina, Treasurer of Panch Pandav Sahakari – a milk cooperative, has a herd of three cows and she sells 35 litres of milk every day to the cooperative. The cooperative collects 1,400 litres milk per day and supplies to the state owned Dairy Development Corporation (DDC). The cooperative also provides loan to farmers to purchase cattle with 14% interest rate. Mina, the sole breadwinner of the all women family of five daughters and an old mother-in-law, is now a role model for other smallholder farmers. However, it was not so few months back.

    Mina could not continue her study after eighth grade as she got married at an early age. Time passed by but when Mina alone had to take care of the whole family, life became miserable she thought of going abroad as a remittance earner. (Due to limited employment opportunity, lack of skill, assets and knowledge, youth in Nepal are attracted to going abroad mainly in the Middle East countries as migrant workers.) It was not easy for Mina to leave her all women family as she was the only bread winner. So, she changed her decision to go abroad and started looking for opportunities within her village.

    Operating feed mixing tool.

    Mina decided to rear cattle seeing other smallholder farmers making income by selling milk. She somehow managed some money to purchase two cows. She invested Nepali rupees 70 thousand for a Holstein cross and 40 thousand for a local breed. As he had never done cattle farming earlier she was not aware about the diseases, feed, cow sheds and other requirements to manage the farm. She was very happy after getting the cows and started dreaming a good future for her children. But within few years both the cows died because of a disease (mastitis). Mina cried over the losses and thought that was the end of her dream.

    Fortunately, before suffering from the disease, both the cows had given birth to a healthy calf each. Mina overcame the sorrow and provided her full effort in raising the two calves. She took advice from the fellow farmers and local veterinary clinic about the diseases and feed. The calves are now fully grown cows and somehow Mina managed to add one more cow. These three cows gave 25 litres milk per day but she was not satisfied with the kind of service and advice she was receiving. She was sure that there must be a way to increase the milk production from her cows.

    Mina now has better knowledge and says only feeding straw and grass is not adequate for better production.

    I am investing 7-8 thousand rupees per month in taking care of the cattle. With the increased income I am planning to send my 2 daughters who just completed the secondary school exam to a good college.

    Happy Mina with milk can.

    There were altogether 30 participants in these training out of which more than 40 per cent were women. Mina was selected as one of the leader farmers among the trainees.  As a leader farmer she is now guiding her fellow cattle farmers on disease management, feed mixing with minerals and vitamins, and sanitation and hygiene to prevent the diseases. Supported by the project, Mina is using a feed mixing tool for demonstration, fellow farmers are keen to learn about the tools, and even ready to purchase them as it saves feed mixing time and drudgery drastically. The saved time is used for other productive purposes or to get good rest. Mina also has some land where she has planted fodder, maize, mustard and paddy. Fodder, mustard and maize has helped her a lot in making her own feed for the cows. It has drastically reduced expenditure in the feed.

    With better access to knowledge and technology, and enhanced skills, now Mina is a confident and successful cattle farmer. Empowered by the project interventions, she not only decides the matters of the milk cooperative but also advises and shares her success mantra with other smallholder farmers.

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  • Pumpkin Commerce for Fighting Poverty and Hunger


    May 29th, 2019

    Uttam Kumar Saha is a Strategic Lead of Urban and Energy for Practical Action in Bangladesh.

    I went to the northern Char areas in Rangpur last week along with the Agriculture team to facilitate the field visit with the Secretary, Ministry of Commerce. Char is the transitional, infertile sandy land, which generally goes under water for six months of the year and is always considered as one of the biggest poverty prone hot spot in Bangladesh.

    What I saw, heard and learned from my first visit, it couldn’t stop me from sharing my feelings. Hundreds of framers, including many women, gathered to meet the Secretary and share their decade long learning and the changes it has brought to their lives by growing pumpkins in Char.

    Women told me that they have sent their children to college and universities or abroad to work. They have also improved housing quality for a healthier life. I was very excited to learn the transformation stories especially from women farmers starting from a dilemma to believing in the technology. They have access to land and input support; knowledge and skill on farming for production, storage, packaging, marketing locally and nationally. In some cases they even export to Malaysia and other countries. Farmers did not leave the practice to grow pumpkins after the withdrawal of project support and most of them are continuing it as business’s or livelihood options.

    This is a great example to showcase how small technologies can bring a big change for millions of people. Despite many improvements, fair price and net profit are still a big concern for sustaining this innovative riverbed farming, which recently got space in the National Agriculture Policy. The secretary advised to move differently.  He shared the example of the French fry by KFC, which is a well-known fast food company in the world. A French fry is nothing more than frying processed potato in hot oil. Technologies they use and the values they add to prepare a French fry from a potato are simple but the cost is 25 times higher than a traditional potato. Time has come for Pumpkin farmers to learn valued ideas for commercialisation, product diversification and processing. Equally they need to explore the export market.

    What I realised is that Practical Action still need to continue working with these farmers and adopt systemic and private sector led marketing approaches to make the changes more visible, tangible and sustainable. We need to bring proactive and responsive export logistic firms and private businessmen, who have willingness, experience and capacity to invest in the pumpkin value chain.  We need to mobilise farmers to work collectively, preferably as a company or a business cooperative. And link with private sector as suppliers, subcontractors and even shareholders. We also need to demonstrate and develop mechanisation skill of farmers for lowering the cost for production and to reduce physical labour especially for women. A strong advocacy component is required to influence local and national stakeholders for an increased allocated budget to provide subsidised input and financial services to these landless farmers. Development of rural infrastructures like irrigation, storage and road by the Government can make it accessible and available to the business cooperatives of pumpkin farmers.

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  • Bridging the sustainable energy gap for smallholders in West Africa


    May 8th, 2019

    In West Africa, demand for food and processed food is increasing mainly due to demographic pressure  while smallholder farmers and processors face difficulties to respond to this demand. Producing and processing more could be facilitated thanks to sustainable and affordable energy.

    However, access to energy is still limited in West Africa, in particular in rural areas, where 9 out of 15 countries have rural electrification rates below 19% and policies for energy access are focused on the satisfaction of the household (domestic) demand. There is a gap in covering specific energy needs for agricultural value chains. To address this challenge, Practical Action through the project “Renewable Energy for Agricultural Livelihoods in West Africa – REAL” is engaging stakeholders for a nexus thinking to lift barriers that hinder access to adequate affordable and sustainable energy services that can be used for agricultural productive uses.
    (more…)

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  • BICAS – strongly connected with people’s life in Karnali


    April 15th, 2019

    This was my first trip to Karnali, a region yet to be explored, where I observed several interventions made by the BICAS project and met with a number of community people and civil society organisations who were benefitted from the interventions. The interventions ranges from gravity goods ropeway to solar water lifting, goat breed improvement to agriculture commercialisation, improved water mills to micro-enterprises and capacity building of CSOs to linkages with local government. Most of the initiatives were new to me as a staff from Finance.

    Babulal Regmi at the small irrigation scheme supported by BICAS project. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    When we arrived in Galje, Kalikot a farmer a Babulal Regmi, was excited to show his vegetable farm where we could observe many farm activities going on. Vegetable farming in this area was not practised earlier. With the small irrigation scheme supported by BICAS project, he was able to irrigate around 25 ropanies (3.14 hectare) of land which belong to 14 farmers in the same group. The cabbage produced in his small patch of the land was just sold for NPR 10,000 (1 USD = NPR 110). In the same plot he used to produce paddy and could hardly earn NPR 2,500. This was simply an example of how people are increasing income by changing their farming practices. Mr. Regmi was happily serving as a barefoot agro-vet and helping fellow farmers and earning an additional income in return.

    Mr. Regmi and one of the farmer members were in a hurry to go to the nearby market to get the vegetable seeds for the next round of vegetable farming. Both of them were excited to share the future plan of the farmers’ group as they learned during training. His kids are grown up pursuing higher education with the contribution of the increased income which was not possible without BICAS project, he proudly said.

    Lift irrigation system in Jumla District. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    Tila River has been flowing since centuries alongside of their villages but they had to depend upon monsoon to plant their crops. It was their far dream to plant seasonal/ off-seasonal vegetables. The grid electricity connection can be achieved only in next generation. Now, the faces of farmers are brightening as they have lift irrigation system run by solar power from the Tila River in Jumla District. Nara Bahadur Rawat, a resident of Ranka, Jumla was in hurry to show the reservoir tank constructed for irrigation. They have started to grow seasonal/ off-seasonal vegetables and irrigate apple orchards which are one of their main income sources in this area. At first they didn’t believe that this technology would work and change their lives. Now it has turned into reality, thanks to BICAS project, they said. We met the representatives of local government and came to know that they have allocated funds to replicate this technology in other areas which made us gratified.

    Gaukala Budha is happy to have hybrid baby goats. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    Finally on the last day of the trip, we managed to observe BICAS project’s support in goat breed and shed improvement. We saw a lady, Gaukala Budha, coming towards us smiling. She wanted to show us the Boer buck (breeding buck) but she was regretting that as the buck is now adult she could not bring it to us. While trying, the buck hit on her right arm and she was feeling the pain, but was still happy to explain how the Boer buck support has changed in her income. The Boer buck, supported by the project is now adult and providing breeding service to goats of fellow villagers. She showed five small hybrid baby goats, crossed with the local breeds which were growing very fast compared to the local breeds. Within a year of service, there are already 13 hybrid baby goats in the village. Gaukala is receiving service charge from the villagers either in cash or equivalent grains.  She is happy to have hybrid baby goats and to provide such service to the villager which has provided her extra income.

    Gaukala also showed us the improved goat shed supported by BICAS. Her smiling face was telling us that BICAS project came up with unexpected boon for the smallholders farmers like Mrs. Budha in Karnali.

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  • Technology builds community resilience to climate change


    April 1st, 2019

    Practical Action is working in West Africa to help small-holder farmers and people living in low income households, improve their management of and resilience to climate related risks such as drought and floods, through access to information and adapted knowledge services.

    In 2015 we co-founded the social enterprise Jokalante, whose name means “dialogue” in the Wolof language, to deliver a range of innovative ICT-enabled services to support uptake of emerging agricultural technologies. Four years later, by combining local language radio broadcasts with mobiles phones, Jokalante can reach 600,000 producers across Senegal and offers its business, development and government clients a powerful set of tools to engage in dialogue with men and women living in rural communities, collect feedback and measure levels of satisfaction. One of the first technologies promoted by Jokalante was a range of locally produced, high quality seeds of staple crops such as millet, sorghum, cowpea and groundnuts. Most of these varieties have a short growing cycle, suitable for years with low rainfall. Their use alongside existing long season varieties can help farmers to be more resilient to the increasingly variable and unreliable rains in the Sahel. To further strengthen climate resilience, Jokalante added advice on using organic matter to improve soil fertility, to the promotional campaign for high quality seeds.

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    Practical Action also works to build resilience to climate risks through access to improved weather and climate weather information services (CIS).  Many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa face barriers of illiteracy, language and connectivity which restrict their access to CIS based on text messages or smartphones. In Senegal, Jokalante is working with the national meteorological service to develop a sustainable business model for sending weather advisories to farmers and fishers, as voice messages recorded in the recipients’ preferred local language.

    But improving access is only one part of the solution. CIS need to be delivered to farmers in a way that improves their productivity, reduces risk or enhances resilience to climate shocks and stresses. In the Climate Information Research Initiative (CISRI) we have looked at ways to improve the overall effectiveness of climate information services, using a systems approach. The Participatory Climate Information Service System Development approach is based in the idea that if CIS system actors map the system and analyse together how it works, then they will be able to identify possible changes they can make, individually or collectively, to improve the flux of information and how it is used by farmers. The approach supports system actors to assess all the various factors that may affect the effectiveness of the service including advisory services, social norms and institutional arrangements.  During pilot studies in Niger and Senegal, participants identified intervention points to improve men and women’s access to and use of CIS, forged new stakeholder partnerships to facilitate CIS delivery and identified locally-driven solutions. The approach has also been useful for designing a new CIS. More information and a step by step methodology guide are available on Climatelinks at: www.climatelinks.org/resources/PCISSD-guide.

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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  • What do Flood Resilience and Nepalese Thali have in common?

    After four years as a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (“the Alliance”), I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of our work in West Nepal. Practical Action and our local partner, CSDR, have been working for 5 years to support communities to become more resilient to the river Karnali’s floods.

    Improving flood resilience is a multi-faceted objective, which involves making the link between development and disaster risk reduction. The definition of flood resilience used by the Alliance recognizes this transversality: resilience is “the ability of a system, community or society to pursue its social, ecological and economic development objectives, while managing its disaster risk over time in a mutually reinforcing way” (Keating et al., 2017).

    To grasp better the variety of issues that flood resilience embraces, the Alliance has developed a conceptual framework called the 5C-4R: 5 “Capitals” (Human, Social, Physical, Natural and Financial) and 4 “R” (Robustness, Redundancy, Resourcefulness and Rapidity), based on the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) that was adopted by the UK’s DFID and the properties of a resilient system developed at MCEER at the University of Buffalo.

    After a one-hour flight from Kathmandu, a three hours’ drive and a delicious Nepalese Thali Set, a dish that accompanied me all along my time in Nepal, I started a three days visit to flood-prone communities where we implemented interventions to strengthen their resilience to floods. The field visit gave me an outlook of concrete actions related to some of the flood resilience properties described in the 5C-4R framework:

    – Banana is a crop that resist to minor floods and as such, is an example of increasing Robustness to withstand floods. Training 25 farmers, who then get organized to sell their banana products together, is a good example of improved Human and Social capital. Learn more about banana farming in flood deposited sandy oil in our Technical Brief.

     

     

    – Community shelters give villagers a Rapid way to safeguard goods and assets in case of floods, increasing thus the Physical capital of households. When there is no floods, these shelters are used for other tasks such as community meetings, adult education, and vegetable collection center. As such, there are an example of Resourcefulness, and a mean to strengthen Human and Social Capital.

     

     

     

    – When poor farmers with reduced lands are trained to grow mushroom in small huts, they improve their Financial capital, as they generate extra resources that can help them to cope with negative impacts of floods. They also improve their Redundancy, as they do no longer depend on a single source of income (for more information on Indoor Oyster Mushroom farming, you can download this Technical brief).

     

    After meeting such resilient people in Lower Karnali came the time to go back to the capital. But I would not leave without eating a last Nepalese Thali Set. And I started thinking on what the communities I met have in common with this delightful Nepalese dish. I realized that they share similar resilience properties:  Nepalese Thali Sets are usually served Rapidly, they provide different types of calories to make Redundancy a reality while the limitless refills definitely make you Robust. And Thalis always managed to balance flavours in a very resourceful way!

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  • Striding Ahead – The Story of How the Livestock Business Centre is Changing Lives


    February 26th, 2019

    Livestock as an important segment of the agricultural sector of Bangladesh has seen an exponentially growing demand. Its prospects as a driver of substantial and sustainable socio-economic change are very promising, however, there remains a lot of room for improvement. There has been a dearth of knowledge with regard to the livestock sector, leading to unaddressed gaps. There is a lack of service and quality inputs for the rural farmers, affordable distribution network and absence of private companies’ business hubs in the community level. That is where the Livestock Business Centre (LBC) comes in. The LBC performs a facilitative role, with the underlying objective of working towards benefitting the rural poor farmers. It has been designed to address all the unmet knowledge needs of the farmers, with a goal of commercialization of rural livestock products and relevant services and inputs. It also ensures affordable output supply for the rural poor farmers, which is contributing to market access and income increase of the rural producers, value chain actors and other market players.

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC), in collaboration with a microfinance institute (MFI) established the Livestock Business Centre in Faridpur Sadr, which is an independent rural enterprise providing one-stop solution to farmers, with the vision of establishing a viable business model for products and services surrounding and including rural livestock products. This business aims towards a multi-pronged benefit approach for the producer community, for the traders as well as for the consumers. The objective of this project is to improve the supply chain by establishing rural business centre and distributions network and farmer groups and market-led production systems. 

    Many have made remarkable strides ahead benefiting from LBC. Stories of some have been brought to light.

    Sharifa Syed was a member of the Asha Committee when she heard about the Livestock Business Centre. She heard about the benefits of LBC and realized it was here to help. Inherently, she would face difficulty availing medical services for her cows. Quality feed was not readily available. Since LBC seemed like a welcome solution, she expressed her interest in availing the services of LBC. She first took a loan and bought one cow. Then she bought another a few months later. She then sold both the cows for a significant profit. After that, she never had to look back. She then repaid her loan to LBC and bought land with the rest of the money. She cultivated all sorts of vegetables, starting from cucumber, eggplant, gourd to onion, chili etc and made a huge profit from there as well. She invested some of her profit on renovating her house and the rest on her children’s education and household expenses. Riding on her initial success, she continued taking loans from LBC. She started from scratch and achieved resilience leveraging on the benefits of LBC. She now keeps busy all day tending her cows or working in the field. She boasted that her husband consults her for every major decision and her standing in her family and the society at large, has been cemented.

    Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have always been each other’s support throughout. They have been in the cattle rearing business for very long. When they first heard about the services LBC provided, they realized it tapped into a lot of their problem areas. They inherently faced some issues, particularly availing medical services for their cows. The local veterinary professional would not always be within reach. Additionally, availing medical services was a costly affair. It costed them BDT. 1000 to BDT. 1200, often as high as BDT. 2000. With LBC, medical services were now within their grasp, with just a phone call, and at zero costs. Things have become a lot easier for them since LBC happened. They collectively made the highest profit margin they ever made. In a very calculative move, they invested the profit in buying land and a trailer for cultivation, which led to greater profits for them. They can now support their children and cater to their needs with this safety net in place. The couple also hosts the LBC collection meeting in their courtyard, where all the cow rearers socialize, apart from talking about business. Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have set a wonderful example of how two partners have crafted a better life for themselves systematically, taking assistance from LBC.

    Afzal Hossain reaped the benefits of the LBC to the fullest with this timely planning. He sold the cow that he bought for a very lucrative profit for Eid, just a few months ago. He then systematically invested his profit to achieve a greater level of financial stability. He bought land with this profit and is looking to cultivate onions, which is particularly profitable in this time of the year. He estimates to earn an aggregate return of BDT. 4 lac through his clever investments, multiplying his initial investment by manifolds. He believes this was only possible because he had LBC’s support. LBC has made things a lot simpler for him. With living expenses increasing every day, he was having a hard time making ends meet with the profits he was making earlier. An underlying issue he had been facing was availing medical services for his cows. Not only would it be difficult to manage veterinary services, but it was also costly. The fee would range from BDT. 1500 to BDT. 2000. For cow rearers like Afzal, this kind of cash was not always readily available. If the fee of the vets was not ensured, they simply would not come, leading to catastrophic ramifications for the cow rearers. But Afzal feels the vets of LBC are one of their own. The vets are at his service any time the need arises, which has lifted a huge burden off his chest. With the convenience that LBC has brought, Afzal could diversify his income sources and become a more resilient individual.

    Abdul Kalam was sceptical about LBC at first but after hearing how his neighbours were benefitted through the service, he decided to try his luck. He previously had a bitter experience availing financial aid from the government microfinance scheme. The loan given then was a very meagre amount, not enough to meet his needs. Because of poor governance prevalent within the system, he also had to give away a huge portion of that loan as a bribe, ultimately not leaving enough for himself. He first took a loan from LBC and bought a cow. He then bought a second. He sold both his cows for a handsome profit, but he did not stop right there. With the huge profit he made, he cleared his loans and invested on land. He has been working relentlessly in the field to reap more profits. He was fortunate to have his wife Anowara by his side throughout. While he worked in the field, she would stay at home and tend the cows. Kalam wholeheartedly acknowledged his wife’s contribution. Leveraging on her enterprising spirit, he diversified his investment on goat, chicken, and turkey rearing. As a token of his appreciation, he made her a pair of gold earrings from the profits. Abdul Kalam and Anowara Kalam have a happy and prosperous life now. Because they are now more resilient, they hope to continue their youngest daughter’s education without restrictions. Abdul Kalam not only acknowledged his wife’s contribution, but he was equally thankful to LBC which gave him the footing to take up more ventures.

    It was evident from Naznin Akhter’s smile that things have been going in her favour. Naznin’s husband has a booming onion cultivation business, but she wanted to do something on her own and create an identity apart from her husband. Having heard about the benefits of LBC, she decided to avail the services. She bought a cow with her loan. When inspecting the feed provided by LBC, she found that it was of a much higher quality than local feed. She was also particularly impressed by the promptness of the medical services. Her effort in tending her cow yielded positive results for her, and she sold it for BDT. 3 lac 60 thousand, making a huge profit. With the additional income in hand, she was now able to contribute financially to her family as well. Some of the profit was invested in onion cultivation and the rest on her familial expenses. But Naznin made sure most of the investment went towards ensuring a better life for her daughters. Both of her daughters were students in the Faridpur Polytechnic Institute. Her oldest was receiving a degree in Civil Services and the youngest in Computer Studies. It would cost them around BDT. 6000 for their commute every month, which was now mostly covered from the profits made. Naznin wanted to set an example for her daughters, and she is proud to have done so. She believes because of the advises she received from LBC she now knows a lot more than what she had previously known. She can now transfer her knowledge and skill to her friends and acquaintances and help empower them. She is now very confident about her capabilities and is looking to buy two more cows in the coming months with support from LBC.

     

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  • The gravitational release – the hillside story of the western Nepal


    January 2nd, 2019

    I always get ‘fascinated’ by gravity goods ropeways. The first time I came across one was in Dhading. I don’t remember exactly when but I am sure it was a long long time back. Once I was travelling on a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu and on the way I saw this giant cage coming off a hill. I wasn’t sure what it was inside the cage, nor did I know how that giant cage was moving. It was all mystery, until in 2012 when I joined Practical Action. During my first week at Practical Action, I was going through annual reports and brochures and that’s when I spotted the same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures. Instantly I could tell that it’s the same cage I saw in Dhading. I became curious and started reading about the giant cage. Little did I know, the giant cage was called ‘gravity goods ropeway’ (GGR) and it was one of the technologies Practical Action was promoting, especially in the hilly regions where they don’t have proper road access.

    Technological enlightenment

    The GGR works on a very simple mechanism. It is a green technology which does not require any fossil fuel and operates on gravitational force. It consists of two trolleys, rolling over two separate steel wire ropes (track ropes) suspended between two stations. The trolleys slide on the track ropes with the help of pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station along the track rope, another trolley with the consumers’ goods hauls up along the next track rope from the lower station. A simple brake system is fitted to the sheave at the lower station to regulate the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. The same year I joined Practical Action, I got a chance to visit the GGR project sites in Dhading and Gorkha, and I was really impressed with this simple technology. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is so simple, yet so effective.

    Pic: Gravity Goods Ropeway at the upper station of Mana Gau, Bajura

    The trail is no stroll through the jungle

    The topography of the Far-West Nepal is a very challenging one. The rugged terrain, narrow trail, steep hills and mountainous ridges surely act as defiance against anyone’s will. The locals are forced to commute this trail without any option. So was my situation when I reached the GGR station in Tipada, Bajura. After having a conversation with Prem Saud, the GGR operator, I intended to visit the upper station to get the clear picture of the community at the upper station. I spoke with Gopal Nepali, our field coordinator, he smiled at me, pointed a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.” I did not have any option but to follow his lead. I checked my watch and it read 10:45 am.

    We went down the road following a trail which led to the bridge connecting the two hills. As we were crossing the bridge, we could see a group of people fishing by the bank of the Budhiganga River. I know for sure that asking the locals the time it takes to cover the distance is just irrelevant but somehow I felt like asking for the sake of it. Gopal was walking in front of me, he turned around and said, “Umm, maybe it takes around one and half hour?” I did not know how to comprehend that statement. I just shook my head and kept following him. As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper. We were literally walking inside a forest. All I could hear was the squishing sound of my shoes against the slippery trail and my own breath. For a second I had to pinch myself just to make sure I was not suffering from the so called Patulous Eustachian Tube (PET). Just before I left Kathmandu, I was reading about PET. It is a dysfunction when the eustachian tube stays open most of the time and you start hearing your own self-generated sound, such as breathing, voice and heartbeat. I stopped for a while, took the water out from my back pack, took a sip and kept walking. After walking for almost an hour, we took a rest under a shade of a tree. I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears, wild cats and other random animals. My jaw just dropped. I did not know how to react. The way he said was very casual, as if they were his pet animals. I was so confused at one point, I did not know whether I was to show my fear or act brave? I am sure they must have come across these animals multiple times and it is nothing strange for them but for someone like me who has never seen a bear, the name itself is very scary.

    Pic: Mana Gau village as seen from atop the hill

    I knew the rest of the walk would be a long one for sure. After resting for a while, again we continued with our walk. There were so many thoughts in my head, what if the bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail, there were just too many what ifs going on at the same time. All of a sudden I heard a crunchy sound behind me. I could tell that someone was following me and it sounded like a giant footstep. My heart was pounding like a heavy metal drum beat. Again all these random thoughts were pouring in like a huge tsunami. Gopal was just a few steps ahead of me but somehow I did not even dare to call his name. I turned around without thinking twice and there I saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. I guess it took me only a second to turn around but that one second felt like forever. (Thank god that was not a bear.) I let the couple go ahead of me. I watched them as they were climbing up the hill, there were no signs of tiredness or fragility. I kept looking at them for a while. The young husband was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, it looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, for me, I was still trying to catch my breath. Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau.

    Commute that lasted days

    The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range smiling at me. The small community comprising of around 204 houses looked almost similar. I could spot a lot of terraced paddy fields from a distance. As we entered the village, people were busy with their daily chores. Most of them were either attending the field or grazing cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where a bunch of people were sitting in front of the shop, sipping a cup of tea, basking in the winter sun. I approached this friendly looking man and asked his name, with a strong voice he answered, “My name is Dan Bahadur Saud.” I introduced myself and he offered me a chair next to him.

    Pic: Dan Bahadur Saud

    Our conversation went on for more than an hour, it was an interesting one though. Mr. Dan was in his early 50s. When he was growing up, it used to take days to carry salt on their back from Rajapur and Dipayal but after the motorway access, the commute was cut short to a day. Nevertheless, they still had to go to Tipada and carry goods on their backs. From Badimalika, it used to take 2.5 hours to get to Tipada and on the way back it was around 4-5 hours steep walk, carrying heavy goods on the backs.

     

    Basically, it used to take them the whole day to get goods from Tipada but after the installation of GGR things have changed. “Now, we don’t have to go all the way to Tipada. We call the shop owner and place our orders, and he sends the goods on the GGR. Within a couple of minutes, it reaches our upper station and from there it only takes us 15 minutes to reach our home,” smiled Mr. Saud.

    The joyful faces

    Pic: Nirmala Dhani

    Inside the tea shop I spotted a woman who was nursing a year old baby. After putting her baby to sleep, she came out and was doing the dishes. I went up to her and asked her the same question I had asked Mr. Saud. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. Her story was no different to that of Mr. Saud.  She too walked the whole day to get goods from the market (in Jadanga or Tipada). She shared, “It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it used to be very scary.” But after the installation of GGR, just like Mr. Saud’s, Ms. Dhani’s life has also changed for the better, within 15 minutes the goods reach her doorstep. Likewise, Krishan Mati Devi Saud also shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

    Work in progress

    I spent almost three hours in the community talking to people and listening to their stories, and everyone shared their joy of having the GGR. After that three hours walk, I can totally relate to the joy of having a GGR installed at Mana Gau. It was already time for me to bid adieu, the sun was trying to hide behind the hills in the west. My watch read 4:45 pm. The thought of taking the same trail back gave me goose bumps but I did not have any choice. I knew that the next two hours will be one hell of a walk. I just do not know how I managed to cross that jungle, nor do I want to recall that again.

    Nevertheless, I was really glad to see those happy faces of this small hilly community. The installation of GGR in the hills of Mana Gau in Bajura district has definitely made life easier for hundreds of Dans, Nirmalas and Krishnas. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on the back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to half an hour easy walk. A simple technology can indeed change one’s life for better but to be honest Mana Gau is still far from development. I cannot argue to the fact that the GGR has made life easier for the locals but still they face uncertainty due to lack of proper road access and basic health services. I wish to not see any of those young couples with a new born walking through that jungle, nor do I want to see a pregnant woman rushing down the hills for immediate attention. I am glad that the GGR has helped reduce drudgery and promote inclusive and sustainable growth but as long as there is road access that connects the village to the main market centre and basic health services where the people can take benefit, then only I can smile with my heart out.

    I have a dream

    I know that Mana Gau is work in progress but I cannot wait to see the full-fledged development of this humble community. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own health clinic. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produces. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty. I have a dream that one day this village will have all its men back from the Gulf countries and India, and all of them will live in harmony. I am sure one fine day I will be able to witness all these and that will be the day when I will be smiling with my heart out.

    The BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. The project aims to promote inclusive and sustainable growth through better livelihood opportunities, thereby enhancing economic infrastructure by installing GGR. Likewise, it also focuses on pro-poor value chains which include better business linkages, enhance entrepreneurship skills of rural farmers and local traders, business networking and business development service provision to facilitate commercial/ urban value chain actors to make their business services accessible to rural areas. To learn more about the project, please click here.

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  • Overcoming obstacles to achieve success – a dreamer who never gave up


    December 13th, 2018

    It was a typical October afternoon in Kuldevmandu, Bajura. The sun was blazing like a fiery medallion in the sky, yet I could feel the chill. The small pavement by the road was filled with dried brown leaves dancing with the wind beats. Just down the road was ever joyful Budhignaga River babbling on its own pace. The Mount Saipal, in the distance not yet snow-cloaked, stood tall and mysterious. It was an awe-inspiring sight.  As we stopped by the sign that read ‘Nateshwari Foods Products’, it was almost 1 pm in the afternoon. Inside a small noodle factory was 24-year-old Bharat Bahadur Saud who was busy preparing noodles. For a while I did not want to interrupt his work, so I sat outside his small factory looking at the passersby.

    Festival vibe and nostalgia

    Dashain vibe was still on. Usually, Dashain festival lasts for more than a week. It is the biggest festival of the year, when families reunite and exchange gifts and blessings by putting tika on each other’s forehead. Historically, it is celebrated to honour the victory of gods over the evil demons. Not to mention, people in the rural areas tend to celebrate it extensively. I could see people walking around with red tika (red vermilion) on their foreheads. It somehow made me miss home and all the festivity fun. In a distant, I could see a man in his early 30s accompanied by his wife and three kids (which I assumed by their body language). The three kids had almost matching outfits. The man was wearing a light-grey suit piece with a Nepali hat and a big rucksack on his back. His wife was wearing a red sari with a flip flop and was holding a duffle bag (stuffed more than its capacity). Their foreheads were all covered with red tika. The serious looking man must have just got back from his in-laws after receiving Dashain blessings. Just next door was a bunch of kids grouped in one corner sharing snack together, which looked like candy bars and dry noodles from afar.

    Pic: Nateshwari Food Products (Sauce Factory)

    The first time I visited this place was back in 2014, with the ROJGARI project. Things were very different then. I am glad to see the positive changes; this place has come a long way. All of a sudden, I heard someone calling my name, I turned around and it was Gopal Nepali, our project coordinator for the Bajura district, he introduced me with Mr. Saud, “This is Bharat Bahadur Saud and he is the entrepreneur of sauce and noodle factory.” Mr. Saud greeted me with a smile and I offered him a chair which was just next to me. Mr. Saud seemed a little shy at first but after a while he started opening up and we had a very interesting conversation that went on for hours.

    Another one bites the dust

    Just like any other kids in the village, Mr. Saud also joined the bandwagon and went to India hoping for a better future. He worked as a cook in one of the restaurants. He recalls his time in India as a reality check, “I didn’t know it would be that difficult to make money, it was very hectic.” As a 20-year-old, Mr. Saud really struggled being away from his family. He got sick and was bedridden for weeks. He had intestinal complications, and had his appendicitis removed as well. In less than a year, he gave up and came back to Nepal. Things were not that good in his own village, so he went to Baglung (a district in western Nepal) and worked as a road painter (drawing white and yellow lines). That also did not last long. The contractor who hired him did not pay the full amount, so he quit the job and came back to his village.

    Pic: Bharat Bahadur Saud

    Hope and inspiration

    Mr. Saud did not lose hope. While working as a painter in Baglung, Mr. Saud was really fascinated by this restaurant where they used to go for afternoon snack. He recalls, “The owner used to make his own chowmein (noodle) and the restaurant used to be filled with customers queuing up for chowmein. That’s what really inspired me.” So, Mr. Saud decided to give another shot. As soon as he came back from Baglung, he went to Dhangadhi and learned the art of noodle making. He sold a small piece of land he inherited from his parents and bought a noodle making machine and started his own chowmein factory. “That’s how things started for me,” smiles Mr. Saud.

    Entrepreneurial capacity building

    Pic: Bharat Bahadur Saud ready to export sauce

    One of the objectives of BICAS project is to provide technical inputs, training and entrepreneurial capacity building to farmers, thereby improving production, value additions through processing and marketing of agriculture produces. Along with his brother, Mr. Saud attended training on ‘sauce (ketchup) making’ offered by the project where he also learned the effective ways to market the product. “The training was really helpful in shaping up our businesses. Therefore, we two brothers decided to open a sauce factory along with our chowmein factory, as it goes hand in hand,” shares Mr. Saud with a smile.

    It was no looking back from that moment on. While I was still having a conversation with Mr. Saud, he was getting frequent phone calls regarding the delivery. In a day, he sells around 480 bottles of sauce. He not only sells it in the nearby villages but also in the entire municipality, which covers more than 12 villages. In a month, he makes more than NRS 200,000
    (1 USD = NRS 115) profit from the sauce factory alone.

    Connecting with local markets

    Mr. Saud’s sauce factory has motivated the locals too, in producing tomatoes, chilies and pumpkins (required for sauce making). Kandhari Devi Saud shares her joy for being able to grow vegetables not only for consumption but also to sell it in the market, “Before, our vegetables used to go waste but now we can sell our tomatoes, chilies and pumpkins to Bharat Saud’s sauce factory and in haat bazzar. I am making a living from this vegetable farming.”

    Pic: Kandhari Devi Saud in front of her tunnel farm

    Despite his multiple failed attempts, Mr. Saud kept on going. He never gave up. His will power and dedication made him the most respected and talked about person in the entire Bajura district. He still has the same passion to do more. In the near future he plans to make potato chips and neemkeen (homemade dry flour chips) along with his noodle and sauce business; and also hire a dedicated marketing and sales agent. The project might phase out but stories such as Mr. Saud’s will live on forever.

     

     

    BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. To learn more about the project click here.

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  • Technology helps lift women out of drudgery in rural Nepal


    October 25th, 2018

    General Information:

    About 40% Nepalese women are economically active and they bear the double burden of works in the family chores and doing farm works. But, the women from Manaagaun and its periphery have extra burden of fetching household consumable goods from Tipada, a nearby rural market with one and half kelometre distance. Anyone who wants to cross this distance has to face challenges and risk posed by Rudakhocha Vir, a hill having sharp-sloppy landscape.

    Being a development worker, when I was through the hill I found it a terrifying adventure whereas men and women of the areas had no other options but to walk frequently on those dangerous slopes carrying more than 50 kg weight on their back before the operation of ropeway.  If anything untoward happens, there is no way to get away from the highly possible fatal accident. If you look beyond the edge of the walking trail, you’ll see below the slopes descending to Budhiganga River which is scary, even to look at. The trail is so narrow that it looks like two big snakes hardly crossing each other!

    Installation of Gravity Goods Ropeway:

     

    Lower station of the system

     

    The situation no longer remained the same. After the installation of a Gravity Goods Ropeway[1] (GGR) no one now needs to travel on such risky road shouldering heavy belongings. The system was installed connecting Tipada (rural market center) and Manaagaun (remote village) of Bajura district, in November 2016. It is 908 metres long with an inclination of 34 degree. While installing the system under the financial and technical support of BICAS project, there were two expectations: to reduce women’s drudgery and enhance income of local households by ensuring easy circulation of local products, here however I will only discuss about the first expectation.

    Operation of the system:

    For its smooth functioning, a GGR management committee is formed and a member of it operates the system twice a week- Wednesday and Saturday for about 3 hours per operating day. In 3 hours, about 16 trips of different goods are usually shipped up and down, which guaranties two-way income to the management committee. Part of such income will be used for its repairing and maintenance purposes to continue its services in the future.

    People’s recognition:

    While travelling to the upper station of GGR, I met Ms. Binda Saaud waiting for her trip of rice bag which was to be shipped from the ropes of the ropeway on 22 June, 2018. She is a local resident of Manaagaun, about an hour walking distance from the upper station of GGR. According to her, she comes here twice a month to fetch rice and other consumable goods to feed her family of five members.

    Pulling out consignments in upper station

    When I requested her to share her hardship she endured while walking on such steep and narrow foot-trail with more than 50 kg weight on her back, Ms Saaud, at 40, shrunk her face, which was in fact enough for me to understand her ordeal by reading her face. About 18 months before the installation of GGR, her life was full of hazard. She lamented “all the time our life was in risk of falling down on the banks of the river with a zero chance of being alive while descending and ascending the hill with heavy load.” In this remote and rural setting, there are many stories of such agony, but walking with heavy load in such steep landscape was much agonising for them.

    During the course of the conversation, she said technology, however, has really made a significant difference to their lives.

    Reducing women’s drudgeries:

    As said above by Ms. Brinda Saud, it is absolutely true that the system or the technology has made significant differences to them on the following aspects:

    Firstly, the system has contributed to reduce the threats to their lives: no women need to walk on such a long and risky foot-trail via Rudakhocha Vir with their heavy loads of utilities essential for their household consumption. Their gravity of burden has now shifted to the ropes of GGR.

    Secondly, before the installation of the gravity ropeway, a commuter or a porter had to walk about two hours shouldering heavy load on their back to climb the hill to get near the upper station of the system. It was much difficult and painful work for each household, particularly for women over there. Now, with the gravity ropeway, any goods take only 1.22 minutes to cover the same distance, if load is properly uphold in both the ropes. Women from about 250 households of Manaagaun and periphery have utilised their time and energy saved from such risky travel to take care of their family members, work in the farms or do other income generating works.

    Finally, the gravity ropeway has also helped cut down the cost by two-third on the total wage a porter would take on any consignment. Average saving from the use of the system to carry consumable goods from lower station to upper station of the system is about NRs. 6,000 (approx. US$ 60) per year for a family of at least five members.

    In this way, a small, cost-effective and zero-energy based technology has made a sufficient contribution to reducing women’s drudgery, risk and cost in remote villages of Nepal.

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    [1] Gravity goods ropeway is a means of transportation that uses earth‘s gravity to transport goods without the use of external energy use.

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