GWALEK –- One thing is standing between Raj Bahadur Mallal and a better life: a road connecting his isolated village of Gwalek with the nearest market town.
In the past, instead of selling his surplus produce, the 52-year-old farmer has had to watch it rot. It's not uncommon in Baitadi district, which is in one of the poorest and most remote regions of Nepal. A quarter of the population there lives on less than a dollar a day.
But a new WFP road-building project is now transforming the lives of some 6,000 families in Baitadi. The EU-funded initiative, which is expected to be completed in mid-2012, will provide a 32-kilometre-long artery connecting villagers to the town of Dehimandu.
The project also offers villagers a chance to feed their families during the lean pre-harvest months. "Usually at this time of the year, my family struggles to put proper meals on the table," Malla says, referring to the pre-harvest months between March and May. "But with this project, I am able to work and get additional food and money for my family and good nutrition for my children."
WFP gives villagers food and money in exchange for their work building the road. A father of six, Malla gets 2 kilos of WFP rice, 250 grams of lentils and NPR 60 – or about 58 euro cents -- for a day's labor.
Villagers also believe the road will bring other benefits to this region, where farmers eke out a living from their rice paddies, along with maize, wheat and potato crops. Access to education is minimal and the nearest health clinic is a five-hour walk away.
"I have seen how people's lives have changed after roads came to their areas," says another farmer, Keshab Bahadur Bohara, who plans to sell his surplus milk and citrus fruit in town when the road is completed. "I am looking forward to seeing what it will bring to my village."
Malla is also looking to the future.
"I am getting old, so I will not be able to enjoy what the road will bring our village for long," he said, before heading to work on another stretch of the road. "But for my children and grandchildren, it will be a different story."