BAJHANG - In a remote hilly village of Moyal in Far-west Nepal, 40-year-old Pabitra Bista always had to struggle to produce enough food for her family.
Like many other men, low yields, unreliable weather and lack of employment opportunities had forced her husband to seek alternative livelihoods away from home leaving her to tend to farming.
“What we produced from the field was never sufficient and was declining with each passing year. No matter how hard we tried to get back on our feet, we were always facing difficulties,” says the mother of three. “Forget about selling, the harvest of traditional crops like maize and wheat was not enough for even six months. I used to take loans from local businessmen to buy food and feed my children.”
Pabitra’s fortune began to change in 2011, when WFP, in partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), introduced the community-based commercial farming of cash crops in her village to improve the livelihoods of local people through effective long-term agricultural interventions.
Pabitra was one among a group of 25 food-insecure households from the village, who worked collectively on a leased land of 1.25 hectares for commercial farming of chilly in the first cycle (May – October 2011) with support from WFP and GIZ-Improvement of Livelihoods in Rural Areas.
“I am very happy with the way things are moving now,” she relates. “Last season, we sold 700 kilograms of green chilly at NPR80 (USD0.90) a kilo and earned NPR56, 000 (USD637) for the community, we still have around 1000 kilos of dried chilly which we are planning to sell at NPR300 (USD3) per kilo. We are now known as the ‘chilly village,’ in our region.”
Besides getting their own share of profit, the farmers have established a group to look after the earnings and use the money appropriately to generate local income opportunities that benefit their community. They are planning to construct a multipurpose community house with an agricultural drying facility and improve irrigation facilities using the group’s fund.
This season, they have planted garlic and are hoping for bigger profit. The garlic seeds were purchased from the groups’ fund.
“We would not have been able to achieve this success at an individual level. Our collective work is transforming the lives of every farmer in this village,” shares Pabitra.
In the past, the villagers of Moyal had never tried farming cash crops like chilly and garlic. They were skeptical about switching to farming cash crops as they were not familiar with it.
“Initially, we faced lots of difficulties in convincing the villagers because they were worried that if the cash crops failed they would have nothing to eat,” recalls Khagendra Rai, GIZ Programme Officer in Bajhang, who monitors the project. “But we were determined and confident that the project would be successful and the hard work has paid off now.”
In order to win the trust of the villagers, GIZ and WFP staff regularly interacted with the villagers providing them with technical support. The farmers received on-the-spot training on land preparation, plantation, cropping pattern, irrigation and proper harvesting techniques.
At the same time, under the Food- and Cash-For Assets activity, WFP provided the farmers with an average of 40 days of labour wage (80 kg of rice, 10 kg of lentils and NPR3,400 -- about USD38) for their involvement in constructing an irrigation canal and a community pond.
“WFP provided me with the short-term employment and the ration helped me to meet immediate food needs of my family,” explains Pabitra Bista.
“I can’t describe in words how thankful I am to WFP and GIZ for showing us the way to overcome poverty and making us independent and self-reliant,” says Pabitra as she started weeding the garlic field with a hoe. “I had always felt my life was cursed but their support (WFP and GIZ) has turned it into a blessing.”
Including Moyal village, the community-based commercial farming project has now spread to 10 Village Development Committees (VDCs) of Bajhang and 13 VDCs of Baitadi districts under the Food- and Cash-For-Assets schemes, benefitting nearly 47,000 food-insecure people in the region.