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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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  • Squatters’ community transforming into flood resilient community


    June 22nd, 2017

    A squatters’ community of over 41 migrated families from different places as landless have been building their flood resilient capacities. They organized together, learned and put their efforts to disaster risk reduction. An end to end flood early warning system set up by Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) and Practical Action in collaboration with agencies of the government of Nepal with funding support from USAID/OFDA breaks down vulnerability to enhance community flood resilience.

    The vulnerability
    Sukumbashi Basti (squatters’ community) in Shiva-Satakshi Municipality used to be one of the most vulnerable communities in the area. The village is in the Kankai River floodplain in the north of east-west highway along the riverbank. The community has about 164 people in 41 households. They migrated from different places and settled in the open land of Kankai riverbank. Most people have to live in daily wage work as agriculture and other labour in the neighbouring cities Birtamod, Damak, Surunga and in the local markets around.

    Sukumbasi Basti at Kankai River bank

    The settlement falls in the alluvial fan of the river and the close proximity has increased the flood vulnerability of the community. The river is perennial but brings flash flood of very high speed during monsoon. On the other hand, they did not have a safe exit to reach the embankment on the outer side which is the only a safer place during flash flood. The community had a trail that too flooded during monsoon resulting village into an island. “The flood water in Kankai River and the heavy rain made lives at risk always during monsoon,” said Mr. Rudra Bahadur Neupane a local resident in the village, “We need to move towards the embankment at any time during night or day when the water level in the river increased.” However, reaching embankment was not easy and safe. Gullies created small flood ways from local rain making difficult to cross them to reach the embankment.

    The flood coping
    Community have encountered floods in the past and have suffered losses. Some of them are already flood victims in their origin from where they migrated here. A thick cloud above hills of Ilam (upstream) always frightened people with risk of flood. The access to safe place was the most difficult and they lived in a flood surrounded island. In the events of big flooding that caused heavy losses of grains and assets, they received relief support from different organisations such as NRCS, District Development Committee (DDC), Federation of Commerce and Industries and community organizations. Since it is very close to foothill they have very less time to prepare for and escape flooding. Therefore, they needed to be alert of the rainfall that would generate flood of damaging strength. The community were yet to organize well and devise strategies and actions. Initially they did not approach organisations, local government bodies and the District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) for flood risk reduction. The need to move from traditional relief approach to risk prevention and mitigation was realised although not materialised.

    Getting organised
    The communities had realised the need and importance of access to flood risk information well before the flood would reach their vicinity. This is what an end to end early warning system brings in. The NRCS initiated Kankai end to end flood early warning system project in 2014. The project approached and helped them to organise, identify problems and their root causes, devise solutions and organize resources to bring ideas into action. Initial community consultations were focused to organise communities to build understanding on flood exposure, vulnerability and risk together with community capacities and initiatives. These processes led to formation of disaster management committee, task forces and trainings. Gradually, in-depth discussions carried out to devise how community could reduce disaster risk and transform vulnerability into resilience. The NRCS has not only implemented the project but also linked communities to Red Cross movement and helped community to devise strategies and actions to reduce losses. Building on the trust they have with these agencies, the NRCS have strengthened community unity, linkage and improved confidence that they can reduce impact of the flood.

    Improving access road to escape flood
    The most and urgent action identified by the vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) was the access road to safe locations to escape flood. “There was need to build a safe evacuation route and during the initial meetings and workshops the community always put forward the request to support its construction,” says Badri Bhujel of NRCS.

    The access road before

    The community organised resources and contributed what they could on their own. They widened the foot trail and delineated the route to the embankment. They got two hum pipes from NRCS and constructed a drain across the road in 2015. The community collected cash from each household, approached local government bodies and agencies to support cash and materials to build stronger culvert to improve the evacuation route by building culverts and retaining wall to protect access road from flooding and sufficient spill way for torrents in between village and the embankment.

    They collected stones and locally available materials, NRCS provided cement, they purchased iron rods and other materials from the money they collected, local government sent a technician and finally community built a culvert with retaining walls that now provides a safe passage to the people during floods. The road is wider such that carts and ambulances can pass through.

    The access road after

    Formation of community disaster management committee (CDMC) organised them for disaster risk reduction. “When I participated in the VCA process I realised that the project helps us to identify ways and means to reduce our flood risk. We identified hazards and analysed their causes, driving factors and our vulnerability. On the other hand, we assessed required and available resources and capacity of our community,” Bharat Khaling Rai shared initial experiences of working together. “And the trainings, exposure visits and interaction with other communities and humanitarian actors organised by the project increased our understanding and confidence to mitigate flood risk and increase our coping capacity,” he said.

    Getting DRR into development
    The CDMC actively involved to the local development planning process through then ward citizen forum and influenced the process to include disaster risk reduction measures in development interventions. Now they hope to get some representatives elected to the local government bodies from the community as the election is happening soon. “We are now familiar with the local level planning and we have presented our request to municipality to upgrade our access road,” explained Rudra Nembang Coordinator of flood early warning task force in the CDMC showing their confidence to move forward on their own to approach authorities to access public fund. Development infrastructures are gradually incorporating DRR in design, layout and construction.

    Leading DRR locally and seeking outside support when required
    The community is now organised into CDMC and institutionalized interventions. They have regular CDMC meetings and have established a DRR fund. This fund will be used to provide immediate relief if any family in the community is in disaster situation. The community has a saving of NPR 40,150 (1 USD = NPR 100) in their emergency fund. They hold skills and confidence to construct small mitigation measures. They have tried to strengthen embankment of Kankai River to control river bank erosion and have planted 8,000 vetiver grass culms in 300 m of the riverbank. They contributed labour and purchased plants by raising cash from each household and invested NPR 200,000 (~US$ 2,000) through cash and work. The Lions Club of Kathmandu had supported for 3000 vetiver grass culms. They raised fund for to buy 5000 culms. “They can extract from these clumps and transplant,” said Lok Raj Dhakal showing the growing vetivers along the embankment slope, “They can sell vetiver culms in few years.”

    The community plans to continue efforts to strengthen riverbank through bioengineering. The grass is fed to livestock and has also potential to generate cash by selling. The NRCS has helped to build local leadership capacity and connect to outsiders to access better support following the principles of community led DRR approach for flood resilience.

    Growing vetiver grass along bank

    Community livelihood assets are yet weak and need external support to strengthen to make them robust and resourceful. Livelihood strategies need to improve for better and sustainable income options. Although there is a long way ahead to build community flood resilient and communities have transformed their approaches from seeking relief to prevention of disaster and being ready with capacity to cope with unanticipated ones.

    With Support from Krishna Basaula, Rakesh Shah, Hari Saran Khadka and Badri Bhujel, Jhapa, Nepal.

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  • Inclusive toilet – an example of inclusive public sanitation business


    June 20th, 2017

    Public Toilet at Gulariya Municipality

    During one of my field trips to Gulariya, in the mid-western Nepal, a gender friendly public toilet caught my attention. Peeping through the vehicle’s window, I decided to visit the site after completing my meeting with Gulariya Municipality Office and following up on the new activities of the Safa Swastha Gulariya project.

    The public toilet has not only male and female sections but also a separate section for third genders. A bright new paint applied to the facility and a shop with colourful display of snacks adjacent to the toilet was completely new from what I had seen during its early construction phase.

    Gender inclusive toilet run by a woman

    Nilam at her shop adjacent to public toilet

    As I entered the toilet premises, I saw a woman in charge of the shop. The public toilet facility operator, Nilam Chaudhary hails from Khaire Chandanpur. She recalls, “About 5-6 months ago, my husband came back home from work and said he had signed an agreement with Gulariya Municipality to operate the public toilet with a shop and I needed to operate the both.” Being a housewife, she was afraid at the beginning but now she is getting familiar to running the facility.

    She operates the facility from 8:30 in morning to 6:30 in the evening. She also takes care of her two-and-half-year-old son and household chores. She thinks it would have been easier to manage the time had there been a room to stay. She could operate the facility for more time as well. However, she doesn’t find any difference between the male, female and third gender toilet designs.

    Designed for self-sustainability

    Practical Action implemented Safa Swastha Gulariya project in Gulariya Municipality of Bardiya District from August 2014 to July 2016. The project, funded by DFID under UK Aid match fund, was implemented through Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO), a national NGO. One of the major activities of the project was to declare ‘Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015’. For the improvement of the public sanitation aspect, the project constructed the public toilet in the bazaar near the police office and district hospital area. This public toilet, unique in its inclusive nature, has separate facilities for both male and female as well as a separate cubicle for third gender.

    The facility earns income through the user charge, parking charge for vehicles and sale of goods from the shop. The income from the toilet and shop is kept separately but the expenditures are not kept separately. Nilam told the facility operates almost at breakeven and sometimes the income is not enough to pay the monthly lease fee to the municipality. Comparatively, most of the toilet users are males followed by third gender and then by women. The male toilet users mostly are the pedestrians, travelers and public transport drivers.

    Social aspects of managing a public toilet

    Different sections of public toilet

    The social aspect of engagement of women in public sanitation business is not so negative. When someone asks her about job, Nilam tells them she operates both the shop and public toilet in the same building. She also has never got negative feedback from others that she is in the business of operating a public toilet.

    One of the most common answers she gets from users when asked about user fee is, “Why she charges user fee for a service provided by the government.

    The business aspect of operating a shop in public toilet comes into use when a person pays for user fee and asks for candies, bubble gum, etc., in lieu of small change.

    The predefined traditional perspective of sanitation service, especially public toilets being managed by the so-called lower castes, the untouchables placed lowest at the social hierarchy can be changed. The successful engagement of women from different social and economic strata can create a changed outlook of public sanitation business. This also helps being inclusive, not only in terms of service to different genders, but also engaging middle class families to support their livelihoods.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Bio-dyke protects Bangalipur community


    April 26th, 2017

    Healthy natural capital provides a buffer between flood hazards and communities. In flood emergencies it provides protecting ecosystem services and in normal time it is a livelihood resource. The vegetation growing along the strengthened river bank in Bangalipur, Bardia brings hope to at least 40 households and provides a site for others to ‘see and learn’.

    There are 135 households living in Bangalipur; 40 households in this community are at risk of flood from the Aurahi Khola, a tributary of Karnali River.

    The flood affects the community in three ways: it erodes the bank away and destroys agriculture and settlement; deposits sand and silt which damages harvests and makes it difficult to cultivate crops in the future; and during high flood events, the flood can inundate settlement leaving people homeless. Over the last 15 years the river has eroded three bigha (2.028 hectare) of agriculture land owned by 10 families rendering some of them landless. If this issue is not addressed the remaining 40 vulnerable household will be displaced.

    Working in isolation, communities did not have the capacity to construct any kind of embankment. The Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) brought communities together and a representative body was formed – the community disaster management committee (CDMC) of Bangalipur.

    The committee led a vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) which identified the Aurahi Khola riverside and nearby households as the most vulnerable to flooding. To address this problem the community identified the need to strengthen the embankment and flood defence structures and included it in their disaster risk management plan.
    Although initial community priority was for high investment concrete structure or a pile of stone filled gabion boxes, they agreed on vegetative measures of bio-dyke technology using locally available resources and mobilising communities through the leadership of the CDMC. The project supported the communities in survey and design, cost estimate, funding for materials that needed to be purchased or hired and the communities provided the locally available materials and labour. A written agreement was reached in between the CDMC and the project outlining the objective, roles and scope of work for both sides.

    River bank before constructing bio-dyke

    The bio-dyke building
    A junior engineer was brought in to technically advise and guide the work. Members of the community worked together to smoothen the bank slope between 30-45 degrees. A base foundation was dug out at the bottom of the bank slope. Then, grip walls were built in the foundation of sand bags supported with bamboo poles and systematically interlocked by gabion iron (GI) wire. These tow walls used 12 ft long bamboo poles in two rows running parallel at one metre and each driven into 8 ft deep holes dug by a driller and sand bag piled in between.

    Piling sand bags along the slope to construct the bio-dyke

    At every 20 m intervals along the bank, bamboo spurs (3 m long, 1.5 m wide and about a metre high) were constructed in the same way – filled with sandbags to deflect water flow away and to prevent water directly hitting the embankment. Sand bags were then piled up along the smooth bank slope – they were guided and interlocked with bamboo poles and GI wire. Lastly, the sandbags along the bank slope were covered with top soil in between hedge rows at 1-2 metres. Before the onset of monsoon (the growing season), locally available seedlings were brought from nurseries and transplanted on the slopes. The plants included bamboo, Napier and bushes that establish and extend their root systems rapidly. Bamboos were chosen at the face – the tow wall side. The community put a hedgerow of plants to prevent the slope from grazing and trampling. The community members monitored the area and prevented grazing.

    Opportunity to test
    The bio-dyke aimed to stabilise the 220 m river bank protecting about six bigha (4.056 hectare) land of 10 families. On the 26 July 2016, one of the biggest recorded floods in the river occurred, providing an opportunity for the community to test the strength of their structure. Although the dyke is yet to naturally stabilise to attain its full strength, it defended the flood well without major damage. The flood was 3 m high and rose over the bioengineering structure but there was no bank cutting and the land at the back was well protected. “There’s also less sand and silt brought in our field,” said Namrata who is one of the land owners. The coordinator of CDMC is ‘pleased to see the success’ and said, “We will extend the dyke further.”

    After bio-dyke construction at Bangalipur, Bardia

    The process built capacity within the community on how to build a bio-dyke. One hundred and thirty five community members worked on the process and have learned how it is done, increasing their awareness on the importance of riverbank protection. “We are now confident, we can do it,” one of the CDMC members said. He informed us that they are approaching local government to advocate for funding allocation to extend the embankment but the ongoing restructuring and elections may ‘lead to waiting for another fiscal year’.

    All information of this story were collected by Buddhi Kumal, Lok Pokharel, Narayan Ghimire and Prakash Khadka.

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  • Gender Transformative Change Is Our Priority


    March 31st, 2017

    The gender is at the center in our new Strategic Business Plan (SBP) 2017 to 2020. In terms of gender, the main shift in the strategic period is gender mainstreaming to gender transformation.

    The gender transformation process dedicates to rigorous gender analysis on capacity enhancement, institutional strengthen, research and development of gender responsive policies through meaningful participation of women and men. The transformative change process goes beyond identifying and exploring the symptoms of gender equality, socially constructed norms, attitudes, and relations of power that underline the cause of limitation of men and women.

    In context of Nepal, women are confined to the domestic spheres mostly in rural areas due to socially embedded and culturally accepted gender roles and responsibilities. So, this process examines the questions and seeks to change the rigid gender norms that causes power imbalances by encouraging critical awareness. The change process of gender transformation mainly focuses to unfold the causes and consequences of existing gender values and addresses them accordingly. This change process further encourages the society to promote the position of women by challenging the unequal distribution of resources and allocation regarding the power relationships. There are four different pillars for gender transformative change, they are:

    Pic. 1

    The first and foremost area that needs to be focused is capacity of women’s leadership. It helps to respond to the need and requirement of an organisation’s future strategy. The development of new policies and strengthening of existing policies from gender perspectives support women in leadership and decision making positions. Such policies support including the socially excluded, economically poor, and vulnerable in terms of disaster risk reduction and those deprived of access to information and resources. It further encourages partnering with like-minded government, non-government organisations and civil societies, additionally, the research on GESI helps to provide evidence for the areas of concentration to bring the gender transformation change in an organisation.

    In context of Practical Action, Nepal office, there are two areas that need to focus. They are;

    1. Capacity strengthening and women’s leadership
    • Focus on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) through project activities
    • Capacity building on Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) of staff and partners
    • Initiate the Gender Audit through our existing projects
    1. Inclusive policies and partnerships
    • Focus to implement of existing policies and development of new policies/ guidelines if required
    • Partnership with like minded organizations to contribute on GESI areas in the implementation level

    This comprehensive understanding of empowerment requires, not only the increase of women’s individual agency, but also changes to transform the structural barriers in order to shift social and cultural norms. This can be measured by examining three broad  domains of transformative changes on empowerment, they are:

    Agencies: Individual and institutional knowledge, skills and abilities

    Relations: Complex and multi-dimensional and pervasive relationships to analyse through diversified tools and techniques

    Structures: Power relationships governing collective, individual and institutional practices

    Pic. 2

    These dimensions help re-frame the discourse of empower to focus on women’s individual agency to collect responsibilities and actions.

    Overall, the gender transformative change impacts on institutional and individual level through gender inclusive policies keeping the women in front line positions in development interventions. This leads to rights of women along with gender related expectations. Eventually, it provides insights for gender transformative actions at organisation and programme implementation levels. Gender is so central to our new strategy. So, considering our organizational priorities, gender tansformative change is one of them.

     

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  • Technologies for bringing back roofs over the heads of earthquake victims


    March 23rd, 2017

    Simple technologies can bring down the cost of house construction and enable the poor earthquake victims build their houses within their means.

    Chhabilal Acharya’s house reduced to a pile of rubbles in less than a minute when the powerful earthquake stuck his village in Laharepauwa Rasuwa on 25th April 2015. His poultry farm, his major source of income, wasn’t spared either. Acharya (62) and his daughter narrowly escaped from the collapsing house.

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    He had built the house in 1995.

    “I gave up even the smallest indulgences in life to save money for the house,“ he said.

    It took him five years to save money for the house as his job at Lagtang National Park would pay very nominal.

    He has been living in a temporary shelter since the earthquake. With his poultry farm gone, his family is scarping by on his meagre pension of $101 a month.

    Government of Nepal has decided to provide $2778 grant to affected households for building house in three instalments. The house should be compliant to the government approved designs to secure the grant. Chhabilal has received the first tranche ($ 500) of the grant. However, he is yet to start building the house.

    “The money is not enough even to prepare ground for foundation and I have no other means to supplement the grant“ he mentioned.

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Building simple 3-room brick masonry house costs more than $5000 in his village. Stone masonry buildings are equally expensive as the stones are not available locally.

    Chhabilal is planning to take loan from a local money lender by mortgaging all his land at half the value to top on the grant.

    Banks don’t accept farm land in the village as collateral. Hence, for people like Chhabilal who don’t have any other fixed assets, the local money lenders are the only resort for the loan. The money lenders rip them off with the exorbitant interest rate.

    “If my son does well in life, he will be able to pay the loan and release the land,“ Chhabilal said with misty eyes. He knows he may never get the land back as his son is just 16 years old now.

    Two hundred and forty two households in Laharepuawa lost their houses in the devastating earthquake. Only 11 households who are well to do or have family members abroad have built their houses so far. Rest are facing the impossible choice, roof over the head or the land that feed them, like Chhabilal.

    However, simple technologies can save them from this predicament and help them rebuild their house within their means.

    Cement Stabilised Earth Block (CSEB) is one of such simple technologies. It is a very good alternative to bricks. It can be prepared from a simple mixture of local soil, sand and cement (10%). It costs almost three times less than the brick. Besides, it requires less labour and cement mortar to build a house with CSEB. And, it provides better earthquake resistance as the blocks are interlocking. A CSEB compacting machine costs around $ 7000 including installation and all the accessories. The machine can produce up to 450 blocks per day. The pictures below shows the CSEB production at Kalikasthan, Rasuwa. The enterprise was set up with the support of Practical Action.IMG_1508

    IMG_1511

    Another technology which can save cost is a simple stone cutting machine. It can reduce cost of through stones and corner stones, which are mandatory inthe government, approved stone masonry buildings, by 2 to 3 times. A labour can prepare maximum 6 corner/through stones in a day manually whereas as the machine can produce up to 200 pieces of corner stones.

    A simple one story house requires more than 150 corners/through stones, which approximately costs $300, if prepared manually. However, with the machine, the cost can be reduced to $100. The stone cutting machine costs only about $1200.

    Stone cutting Machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle Rasuwa

    Stone cutting machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle, Rasuwa

    Practical Action has been promoting the technologies in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts through a DFID funded project in a small scale.

    It is an irony that better-off households are better poised to receive the government housing grant as they can fully comply with the government standards. Poor households, who are solely dependent on the grant, are at the risk of losing it as the grant is not enough to build government design compliant house. The technologies can avert the risk by reducing the cost of building house.

    Likewise, the technologies can  provide alternative livelihood opportunities to the people in the earthquake affected districts as they can be promoted as the local enterprises. Hence, larger diffusion of such technologies is across the earthquake affected  districts is important not only for accelerating reconstruction but also improving livelihood.

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