Nepal Report from Oli Knight, World Jewish Relief's Programme Officer
A six hour drive from the dusty, noisy, hectic life of Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, is Dhaibung, a village community in Rasuwa district, north Nepal, which was left devastated by the earthquakes that hit the country last year. I was there last week, visiting some of the 682 farmers whose agricultural livelihoods World Jewish Relief has been supporting.
Gazing across the undulating terraced landscape, it was clear that agriculture is at the heart of this beautiful country. Millions of Nepalese people have always depended on their land to grow food to feed their family, their livestock and then use what’s left to trade or share with neighbours but the 2015 earthquake didn’t just kill people and flatten homes, it destroyed livestock and months of food supplies setting this country back significantly. As we came off the main road and drove the long and bumpy track high up into the hills, up and down and up and down, I couldn’t imagine that communities could even exist this far away. But they very much do. It’s just over 18 months since the earthquake and beneath the “Namaste’s” and smiling faces, it’s clear that people are still recovering, still trying to re-build their lives. But on this trip I experienced first-hand what the earthquake definitely did not take from these people – resilience.
In Dhaibung ward-8 I met Laxmi who had been married at 13, had her first child at 15 and was now 30 years old. She was harvesting some cauliflower in her field when we met and spoke to me about the terrifying experience of the earthquake saying “It was absolute chaos, when the earthquake came, my house was almost flattened, only a bamboo post stood strong. My two children were inside. Minutes after, I got them out, seconds later, the bamboo post broke and my home was gone”. I can’t begin to fathom the sheer terror that Laxmi would have gone through during those days and many I met still live in fear of another serious quake. On my second night in Nepal there was a sizeable tremor, a first time experience for me, but for the rest of the country a stark reminder of those dark days.
Despite all this, hope remains in bundles. World Jewish Relief through our local partner organisation, Community Self Reliance Centre, is helping farmers realise the potential of agriculture not only for subsistence but as a viable business opportunity on a larger commercial scale. Over the last year, World Jewish Relief has provided farmers the necessary agricultural resources to grow cauliflower for the first time including seeds and fertilisers. We have also run technical trainings for production and provided follow-up advice on coping with disease and pest problems. But actual production is just half of the story, we have also trained farmers in bookkeeping to track and analyse their production and sales, helped set-up a collection centre to provide better access to the market and get better prices for their produce. We firmly believe in empowering our participants to take ownership and thrive, rather than simply relying on handouts after a disaster and it’s been inspiring to see this working in our projects in Nepal.
Although Laxmi has had experience with cereal crops, growing cauliflower and other vegetables is completely new. As she harvests her first year’s batch, the production looks solid and she can expect a total yield of around 600kg. Although this will lead to a modest 15,000rs (£112) it is the first time Laxmi has ever been paid cash for her products and it is enough to cover her 15 year old daughter’s education for a whole year. Laxmi’s production will improve next year and her understanding of the market will get better enabling her to cover many more costs. In an ideal year, based on her land size she can expect to produce up to 1,500kg (minimum of 37,500rs/£280). For all farmers this scale of income is in excess of anything they might have earned before the earthquake; it is money to spend on education, healthcare and to rebuild their homes.
I leave Dhaibung with a lot of pride for the work World Jewish Relief is doing. It would be easy to provide large cash grants to a selected few, but we are reaching hundreds of people, empowering them to help themselves. We don’t just provide life-saving support at the time of emergency but crucially we also realise the importance of helping people back on to their feet too.
Oli Knight, December 2016
Watch this video message from Oli: