Nepal: Farmers leading locally

Photo: Emilie Rex/Mercy Corps

Editor’s note: This is a special guest blog from Mercy Corps highlighting the important work of U.S. government food security programs. 

By Jyoti Shrestha

Man Singh Bohara sits on a carved bench overlooking healthy rows of cauliflower, tomato, and cabbage. This farm, he said, was not always so lush. Local canals provide barely enough water to irrigate 15-20 plants, and those that receive enough water to thrive must also survive the harsh weather conditions in Nepal’s Far West Region. For vulnerable families like Bohara’s, problems getting enough to eat are often interconnected in a vicious cycle where each reinforces the others. For example, when crops fail, a family’s income plummets and people are unable to afford healthy food. With farmers sometimes weakened by hunger and malnutrition, the next problem—whether it’s pests devouring the crop, prices at the market falling, or any of a host of other stresses—can easily force a household to spiral into a nearly inescapable cycle of debt and poverty.

“Last season, the hailstorm took away all my bitter gourds,” Bohara recalled. “We did not have proper nutritious food to eat. My wife was often sick. I always had to borrow money at high interest rates from the money lenders for her checkups.” 

Hoping to break the cycles of debt and hunger, Bohara joined Pragatishil Krishak Samuha, a farmers’ group founded by the Promoting Agriculture, Health, and Alternative Livelihoods (PAHAL) Program and funded by USAID Food for Peace. He engaged deeply in the work, beginning by receiving training in integrated pest management (IPM) and kitchen gardening. He later volunteered to construct a poly-house—a structure that provides cover for crops against harsh weather and extends the growing season—on his land to demonstrate its use and benefits. Soon after, he adopted a drip irrigation system to provide crucial water during droughts. Before long he was harvesting coriander, radish, cauliflower, tomato, cabbage, brinjal, and chili, all on the land where he once grew only cucumber.

“I know how difficult the life of a farmer becomes when you have very little water and your production is affected by natural calamities,” he reflected. “With the help of a poly-house, I was able to save my bitter gourds and other vegetables from hailstorms this season. Also, it helped me grow off-season vegetables, which increased my income.”

Because PAHAL can work with each community for only a limited time, the program works to ensure that farmers can sustain their new production with their own knowledge and resources. It fosters local partnerships and supports local champions in order to help build resilience. Bohara and others have been trained as lead farmers, for example, in a model that invests in strong networks and teaching skills for participants. He has demonstrated strong abilities—hitting the ground running and organizing training in IPM, kitchen gardens, crop management, and vegetable farming for other farmers in his group.  

Ultimately, this approach catalyzes engagement and ownership in a diverse set of activities—from financial services, to natural resource management, to hygiene and sanitation. All aim to ensure that communities can  learn, cope, adapt, and transform in the face of the complex shocks that threaten their food security.

Bohara walks a beaten path toward his poly-house. He now produces enough vegetables to sell the surplus at a nearby market. He recalls how PAHAL helped establish a collection center that links farmers with markets and enables them to increase their yields. “Organizations will not support me all the time,” Bohara pointed out. “Their job is to make me capable enough to face difficulties. I will make the most of what I have learned and adopted, and make sure that I transfer the knowledge to the community.”

Jyoti Shrestha is a communications specialist with Mercy Corps in Nepal.

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