Radha Malla, Santi Buda and Chhatakala Bishwokarma are Rural Service Providers (RSPs) in Nepal who have been using their newly-learnt knowledge and skills to improve their livelihoods and positively impact their communities.
They learnt this when they participated in the trainings organised by Helvetas and IFOAM – Organics International, as part of the second phase of the Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems project (NMA II). Their life-stories may differ and they may live in different locations in Nepal, however, these women are leading change in their communities to encourage local food production and show how vital nutrition is.
“I was married very young and had my son very early. It was not easy for me“, reflects Radha, a women’s activist in Narayan Municipality of Dailekh, Nepal.
She got married while still in secondary school but was motivated to continue her studies by a women empowerment forum based in the village.
Despite the hardships she faced, Radha managed to finish her studies and now holds a master’s degree in education, with a major in health. It is this interest in health that encouraged her to attend a capacity development training for RSPs organized by the NMA II project, through its local partner, Helvetas in Dailekh district in 2019.
The training focused on the importance of growing local and nutritious produce and the adverse impact of junk foods on the health of women, children and everyone else. As an advocate for women and children, Radha realized she had to first change her food habits, before encouraging others to do the same. Hence, she started reducing her junk food intake and that of her family’s by 80%.
She developed a micro intervention project that focused on child nutrition. Radha regularly conducts follow ups at schools to raise awareness about the negative impact of junk food. She has encouraged many families to organically grow diverse local crops such as buckwheat, nettle etc, and in so doing, Radha has trained over 300 people about the importance of eating organic and nutritious food. She is one of the most recognized and respected women activists in the districts.
80 kms away from Radha lives another inspiring and ambitious woman successfully promoting mixed-cropping in Patarsi Rural Municipality, Jumla.
For Santi, growing a variety of organic local crops for consumption and income generation seemed crucial. When she attended a capacity development program for RSPs which covered issues on agricultural practices, diversified crops and improved farming systems, she was inspired to share the learned knowledge. She decided to share with the people in her village the benefits of growing multiple crops on their farm, as well as the nutritional value it can bring to their diets. .
Our villages practiced conventional agriculture and they grew food grains for subsistence use. They lacked diverse production and consumption.
As an RSP and a facilitator of women cooperative groups in Rini, Urthu, Godasen and Bata villages of Patarasi rural municipality, Santi has developed a concept note on producing crops, organically,such as beans, cabbages, carrots and cauliflowers, for consumption and income. In this process, she collaborated with Himalayan Cooperatives to gain support in providing seeds of the crops and technical assistance. This led to many women becoming a part of the Himalayan Cooperatives.
In 2020, 15 members of the cooperatives produced mixed food grains and vegetables such as carrots, beans and maize. The result of this t has been fruitful in both production and consumption of local nutritious food.
Though some of the farmers Santi has trained have been successful, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted marketing of the products. Only in 2020, the villagers produced 800 kilograms of carrots and 63 kilograms of carrot seeds. However, due to market disruption caused by the pandemic, the farmers had to sell a kilogram of carrots for NPR 30 as opposed to the market price of NPR 100.
The farmer group is planning to visit the Rural Municipality Office in Lasi to consult about the possibility of getting a livelihood compensation. The struggle continues, however, Santi and her community are more than determined to find solutions for their challenges.
So many women in Nepal and all over the world have proven that no challenge is too great to overcome, especially when working together.
Take an example of Chhatakala, a resident of Fukot in Raskot Municipality who has economically improved her livelihood using organic methods and has progressed from being a subsistence farmer to a semi-commercial one.
Taking care of a family of nine, it was difficult for her to make ends meet relying on rice and wheat production from their farm. The produce was so little that the harvests would hardly suffice for her family’s food needs for three months.
In early 2020, SUNSAI gave a training which became a turning point for Chhatakala and her family’s livelihood. She became aware of the importance of integrating diverse crops such as vegetables and fruits on the farm and doing it organically. After the training, she received a composite kit with a variety of seasonal vegetable seeds such as radish, mustard and spinach, which Chhatakala cultivated on her farm.
The first harvest of the vegetables were consumed at home and the surplus was sold in the nearby market. In this first batch, she was able to make NPR. 8,800.
This motivated her to diversify even further by setting up a nursery for cucumber, pumpkin and tomatoes to preserve local seeds. In her journey to become a semi-commercial farmer using organic methods, she recently constructed a vermi-composting pit for producing organic compost manure, with SUNSAI’s assistance. She also became an active member of the Pachajharna Society for National Development (PSND) which has supported her in her vegetable business.
Organic farming seems beneficial in many ways because as producers, we are helping ourselves and the community savor the local and healthy food filled with nutritional values.
Chhatakala, Santi and Radha are Nepalese women empowering the farmers and consumers in their communities to farm sustainably and be mindful of eating a balanced diet consisting of locally grown nutritious food. They are living proof of what an empowered woman is capable of achieving.