The Annapurna Range from the beautiful Pokhara Valley,
the future site of MVEF
For two months in late 2010 I had the pleasure of volunteering with the Sustainable Agriculture Development Program of Nepal (SADP). Situated in an ‘off the beaten track’ valley of Central Nepal, the demonstration farm is surrounded by unreal beauty, including the very prominent Manaslu Massif (group of Himalayan mountains) of the main Himalayan Range, alongside another range visible from the Valley which marks the border of Nepal and Tibet. Many late afternoons were spent watching these Himalayan ranges turn from brilliant white, to orange to vibrant pink as the sun set – something that should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list’. The terraced fields found throughout Asia flank the floor and sides of the valley, and the tops of the valley are largely forested – a source of timber for the community and invaluable habitat for illusive animals that call it home — leopards and possibly the odd tiger included (but that’s a story for another time).
A field of Mustard in the Kalesty Valley of Nepal
Not only is the physical geography of the valley and surrounds a source of inspiration, the inhabitants of the valley also greatly inspired me in the two months that I spent there. The people who call the Valley home more or less lead the same kind of life that their long distant ancestors would have – bar the odd cigarette and sweet shop, ‘intermittent’ electricity supply and under-resourced primary schools which dot the valley floor.
The Kalesty Valley and Manaslu Massif of the Himalaya
Witnessing the five-day Festival of Light, otherwise known as Diwali, was one of the highlights of the time I spent there. Each night over a five day period a group of locals would come to the farm house, dressed in their traditional best, and sing as a group while members of the group would take turns to dance. The performance itself was breathtaking but what really captured my attention was how open and enthused the locals were to share their culture with myself and the other volunteers of the time. Not only did the locals give an invaluable insight into their cultural practices, they opened themselves to my presence in the valley. Hospitality was experienced everywhere — including the attempt of many to feed me to death (with very tasty food I might add). Another highlight of my time spent in the valley included watching the locals at work in the fields — the rice harvest, and timber harvesting alongside the planting of wheat as we came into winter. The absolute contrast of the life they lived and the one most of us Westerners live could not have been starker.
The Festival of Light (Diwali)
Although at first glance all seemed well in the valley, time was soon to reveal a different picture. The first observation I made was the lack of young adults and adolescents. There was a moderate proportion of young children (up to about 12 years of age) and older men and women (30 to 40+), however the age group of 16 to about 30 seemed to be missing without a trace. Another issue I was soon to learn about was the seeming absence of any real organic practices. Farmers either bought chemical fertilizers and pesticides from the nearby towns or piled buffalo manure into pits – later distributing both in the fields (both of which deplete soil carbon levels).
Ramesh Sharma, the head of SADP Nepal, along with Dev Raj Baral and Govinda Bedraj, both SADP employees, came to explain the social situation that typifies rural Nepali life. When young men finish basic schooling, the strong trend is for them to travel to India or the Gulf states to find work. This explained the lack of young men (16-30 years of age) in the valley. The lack of young women was due to the trend for them to move to large towns or cities to find work and with luck continue their education. The lack of child-bearing aged men and women is due to the growing tendency of many to sell their land and move to towns or cities to give their children a ‘brighter future’. However, without relevant skills or a proper education, those from rural areas often find themselves at a great disadvantage in the cities. Hence the demographic of rural Nepal is increasingly moving toward a population characterized by an aging populace with a small number of parents and young children — a demographic seen around the developing world. Indeed, in the late 2000s the population of cities became greater than the population of rural areas for the first time in human history.
The causes of this rural dilemma are complex and multi faceted and I won’t try to pretend I understand it in any real depth. I will however repeat with relative accuracy what was told to me by the staff of SADP, who have great experience in the causal effects of the aforementioned ‘population dislocation’. What it boils down to at the core is the basic drive for the population to raise their standard of living. When queried, farmers have consistently made it clear to SADP that if there was a way of making a dignified living on the land they would rather stay on the land than travel abroad or move to the cities. This sentiment holds true for all members of the population, including the young men and women of the valley. As it happens, research undertaken by SADP has found that there is huge demand for organic produce in the large towns and cities of Nepal, what is lacking is the supply base. What is stopping farmers from making a dignified living on the land include the following:
- Lack of water storage facilities needed to grow vegetables reliably throughout the year, including the dry winter months.
- A lack of knowledge of how to grow organic grain and vegetables. (The introduction of chemical farming practices since the infamous Green Revolution has led to a diminishment in the nutrient and water holding capacity of soils, leading to a reduction in yields).
- A lack of knowledge of how farmers can access nearby markets to sell excess produce and high demand organic produce.
Given this information, SADP is attempting to help the farmers in the following ways:
- The construction of water storage facilities to assist in the growing of vegetables year round – to consume and sell year round.
- The education of the residents of Kalesty Valley in organic, ecological agricultural practices – to heal their land, improve health, and to access the premium that organic gets in the market.
- The development of farmer support groups who can set up market transportation arrangements – lowering transportation costs, and who can assist and support one another in their efforts to restore environmental, social and economic health to the valley.
The conclusion to a three day organic training session including compost,
seed bed and banana circle construction
Toward the end of my time in Nepal, Govinda Bedraj – an SADP employee – raised with me the idea of setting up a sister organization in the beautiful Pokhara Valley. Two years have passed and recently Govinda has managed to set up the administrative side of the organization including the launch of a website and the finding of an appropriate site for the farm. Govinda has also recently established a partnership with a US based NGO called Village Volunteers who will assist with the placement of volunteers and donations for what Govinda has now named ‘Mountain View Eco Farm’. Govinda hopes to replicate the growing success of SADP in the beautiful Pokhara Valley.
Govinda and produce of the SADP demonstration farm
Enough from me though, here’s what Govinda has to say.
I am writing to you because I know you care about Nepal and its Nature, and I want to share my dream with you and ask for your support. Your small contribution counts a lot for the development of our and your own eco-farm in Nepal.
For many years I have dreamed of having an organic farm and educational center in Nepal. We have such a great Nature and people here, but most of them are unable to understand. Many just go abroad for a job. I want to give them some knowledge from my farm (education center) from where they can learn how "we can be happy and healthy with our own (Nepali) family."
Because of the economic situation of Nepal, it will take many people all over the world to help me make this dream a reality. I’m hoping you will be one of those people. What we need most, of course, is your contribution, which might be financial. You can also help in other ways, even after the establishment of the farm. If you send this to your friends through e-mail or Facebook, and tell them about our connection that the farm is a trustworthy project to support and ask them to send it to their friends too.
For so long I have had the dream about building an organic eco farm. All the experience I have had working with SADP-Nepal — working with international volunteers, starting school gardens, doing community projects, and of course gardening — will be put to work in making my dream come true. And so will my friendships!
It’s a big risk for me to try this, but it’s a bigger risk not to. One reason this is important to me is that I watch so many of our young people leave Nepal for work — more than 1000 every day. They feel ashamed to do small jobs and think they can make more money abroad, but they have very hard times, even getting hurt. I want to show them they can make their own business in Nepal, have a good life, and increase the health of everyone. MVEF can show them this.
Thank you very much for your great contribution for the Organic farm. I will be always looking forward to hearing from you, your valuable suggestions and your visit to your farm in Nepal. The farm will always welcome you for your visit and stay. Once again thank you very much for your great heart and help!!!!
If you would like to make a donation to assist in the establishment of Mountain View Eco Farm it would be greatly appreciated, no matter how big or small! Below is a link to make a donation. Further below is a link to the MVEF website and facebook page, alongside the SADP site. If you are ever in Nepal, please come and visit, both MVEF and SADP are open for volunteering!