Agroecology Rebuilds Rural Livelihoods of Women in Post-Earthquake Nepal

Reader Contribution by Christopher Sacco and Groundswell International
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The recent earthquakes in Nepal devastated the lives of millions of small farmers and other rural people. They killed at least 8,800 people, completely destroyed some 594,000 houses and severely damaged another 280,000. In all, more than 2.3 million people cannot return to live in their homes. Most of them are living in temporary shelters made of tarps located on land close to their ruined houses. They are working to re-establish their damaged farms, while using their half-collapsed houses to cook or store goods as they gradually rebuild them.

The village of Chiri Kharka was among the most affected communities. The destruction there was so complete that the 15 surviving families abandoned their land and moved to the nearby village of Mahankal, where they have taken up temporary residence in makeshift shelters on borrowed land while they look for a new home.

Despite their lost friends, their crumbled houses and scarred landscape, people smile and laugh as they get on with the business of living. Proof of their resilience is everywhere: In the weeks since the earthquake, they have managed to move their families and salvage belongings across a mountain, build shelters, plant crops, and begin re-establishing their herds, as collapsed pens and buildings killed many of their goats and cows.

Chiri Kharka is on the mend, and its healing is being led by its young women leaders, such as Saraswati and Parabati Thapa Magar, the secretary and treasurer of the women’s group they helped form 11 months ago.

The group, the first women’s organization of any kind in Chiri Kharka, has played a critical role in the recovery efforts, building on its recent successes learning vermicomposting, establishing a fodder nursery to improve the production from their goats, and setting up a savings and credit cooperative to provide small loans to members for school fees, farm inputs, and other basic needs.

The situation is especially difficult for women in rural Nepal due to decades of culturally instilled gender inequality and discrimination. Women have limited access to education and health services and cannot obtain credit to invest in productive enterprises that would improve their families’ food security, livelihoods, and wellbeing. This inability to access capital reinforces their marginalization and inequality. Groundswell International and its local partner BBP Pariwar work to foster a constructive environment in which the women may analyze their situation, identify existing problems, examine the various alternatives to overcome these problems, and then choose, plan, and implement the best solutions.

Saraswati and Parabati are not the only young people leading the way. At the conclusion of our meeting with the village, we learned that Bhim Kumari Thapa Magar, Saraswati’s and Parabati’s friend, would graduate from the 10th grade, earning her place in the final two years of high school.

The earthquake recovery will be long and arduous for Nepal, and especially for communities like Chiri Kharka that lost so much. But with such strength of spirit and emerging leaders like these, there is no doubt that the future will be brighter than the past.

Groundswell International started working in Nepal two years before the earthquakes and has increased its support, from four to 23 villages, in recent months to facilitate recovery in the earthquake-ravaged countryside. Groundswell is helping Nepal’s most vulnerable rural people to recover their farming livelihoods and begin to rebuild their homes and lives. Specifically, our work focuses on providing women from the “untouchable” class (dalits) with alternative means of earning income, recapitalizing their livestock assets, and applying ecological agriculture principles to improve their animal husbandry and farming practices to maximize livestock and farm production to recover their household economies.

Photo by Christopher Sacco, Groundswell International

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