Consumption of vegetables produced through biological means has improved the health of communities in Dandafaya village in Nepal. Coming together and producing organic vegetables as a group, the women in Dandafaya not only increased their income and built sustainable employment opportunities, but also became socio-economically empowered.
Dandafaya village is located in Humla, a remote Himalayan district of Province 6 of Nepal, on the Simkot-Mount Kailash and Mansorabar trekking route. Agriculture is the major livelihood option. Traditionally, women are engaged on farms and produce cereals such as buckwheat, naked barley, finger millet, Himalayan millet, potatoes, wheat and rice, among others. Local varieties of crops are grown applying traditional methods of agriculture. The yields are low, which meet their food requirements for about 3 to 4 months only in an year. Women also grow vegetables like pumpkin, chillies and turnip, which suffice for about 3 months in a year. As a result, most of the children are malnourished.
Common Forum for Development (CFD), an NGO has been working in Humla district with an aim to improve the quality of life for the rural poor, since 2012. Adopting a multi-dimensional approach, CFD has been addressing the issues concerning livelihoods, food security, healthcare, education, community management and gender equality, particularly working with women, dalits, indigenous Janjatis and low income households with an income less than NPR 50,000 per year.
In 2014, CFD visited Dandafaya village, talked to some women about their vegetable production practices, their problems and challenges and decided to work with them in improving their livelihoods.
Organic vegetable production
In mid 2014, CFD had discussions with the rural women about the importance and scope of organic vegetable production and marketing. It emerged during discussions that there is a good demand for organic vegetables, especially during the May to September period, when Indian pilgrims visit Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarobar via Simkot every year. And this figure, according to DDC records, was 11,000 in 2017. Understanding the importance of organic vegetable production, in terms of its potential in meeting the nutritional requirements and income generation, backed by the rising demand, women of Dandafaya village decided to produce vegetables organically.
In 2015, CFD facilitated formation of Women Organic Vegetables Group. Group members with the support of CFD, developed ideas to improve the organic vegetable production and marketing. Together, they finalized the activities and plan for implementation.
CFD, established in 2012, is a leading NGO in Nepal that focuses on sustainable poverty reduction, enhancement of food security and livelihoods of the poor, disadvantaged and marginalized families including small and marginal farmers in the remote Himalayan districts of Nepal’s mid-western Karnali Zone. It enables women, dalits and other marginalized as well as indigenous groups in impoverished rural villages work their way out of poverty and become more self-sufficient and empowered. It helps people help themselves by developing cost effective solutions to end extreme poverty in Nepal.
An exposure trip was organised to Thehe village, to interact with women’s group, which had won the seed prize in 2014. The visit helped women farmers of Dandafaya, develop confidence to run their enterprise.
An important step was to provide training to the group members. Women were trained on both technical as well as management aspects of organic vegetable production. A 3-7 day training focused on topics like homestead gardening, nursery management, compost making and application, herbal pesticides making and application, green house/ poly-tunnel construction & management, business plan preparation, micro-enterprise development etc. All these trainings were organised in collaboration with the district agricultural office. Also at the field level, they were trained on aspects like seed bed preparation, compost making, transplanting, weeding, locally made pesticides application, harvesting, grading, packing, transportation, marketing etc.
Further, trainings were organised on group formation, group meetings, record keeping, savings and credit management,
nutrition, health and hygiene etc.
The group members also joined a 6-month long economic literacy class conducted by CFD in their village, to develop confidence to run the enterprise.
Organic vegetable production
All members in the group grow vegetables at different levels of production. Women who have a small plot of land produce vegetables which met their family consumption needs. However, some women produce vegetables in 5-6 ropanies (19.67 ropani ~ 1 hectare) of their land. It is estimated that organic vegetable cultivation is carried out in more than 75 ropanies of land, currently.
Members grow a variety of vegetables – onion, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, garlic, broccoli, pumpkin, eggplant, cucumber, coriander, spinach, broad leaf mustard, etc. Generally, market demand forms the basis of the type of vegetable grown by the women. It also factors off-season as well as niche markets, the tourist season (May-September) and Dashain, a major Nepali festival in October every year.
The women enterprise group makes use of compost and organic pesticides for crops which are prepared by them. While compost is prepared at an individual level in their backyards, using animal waste and organic household waste, organic pesticides are produced collectively. Organic pesticides are produced using locally available herbal plants and distributed among the group members.
During winter, when there is snow, women produce vegetables inside green house or poly-tunnels. The greenhouses have been constructed using locally available materials, with partial support from CFD for green house roofs (90-120 GSM plastic), plastic for poly-tunnels, watering cans and garden pipes.
Marketing the produce is done by women themselves. Women sell the produce locally or in the Simkot market, after meeting household nutrition needs. Also, there is a good demand from many hotels and restaurants. The average income of a household in 2015 was NPR 22,000, NPR 26,000 in 2016 and increased to 37,000 in 2017, primarily through the production and sale of onion, garlic, chilli, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, cabbage and carrots. Presently, marketing is being done individually, but there are plans to go in for collective marketing.
Training in organic agriculture has had a very positive impact on homestead farming and commercial vegetable farming. Awareness of organic agriculture has risen significantly, particularly amongst women, who now use organic fertilizer and encourage other people to do the same. Most of the group members say that green house and extension services, along with vegetable production technology on organic vegetable farming, has helped them transform their agriculture system.
The number of malnourished children and the number of diarrheal patients visiting the health clinic has significantly declined with consumption of organic food
Cultivation and marketing of organic vegetables enabled the women enterprise groups in Humla district enhance their income and also build sustainable employment opportunities. With enhanced incomes, the women are able to send their children to school and are able to buy school dress and stationery. They are also able to buy red sarees and bangles to celebrate teez festivities, a women’s festival in September every year.
“Vegetables helped me fight poverty. I was able to buy new clothes for my children, and my husband repaid Rs 5,000 loan. I even gave gifts to my neighbors and relatives, something that I could never afford before”.
Ludki, a member of women organic vegetable group, Dandafaya
The local community in Humla believes that their children are healthier after they began consuming more vegetables. The local health workers say that the per cent of malnourished children and the number of diarrheal patients visiting the health clinic have significantly declined.
Women voices are being heard at home and in the community as well. Some of the women were also chosen by a political party for the local and provincial assembly elections, which they won.
There is a growing demand for organic vegetables in Nepalgunj and Surkhet, as organic vegetables grown in cold temperatures is very tasty and nutritious. The group plans to meet this market demand by enhancing the scale of production. Though Humla district has no access to road and everything has to be airlifted to Nepalgunj or from Surkhet, the existing 15-20 air cargo services which operate every day in Simkot, Humla provides a great opportunity to scale up production. Usually, cargo services fly in with goods and materials and fly back to Nepalgunj and Surkhet empty or without any goods and materials. This empty slot could be used by the group to transport vegetables to Nepalgunj and Surkhet at reasonable costs. The group plans to scale up their organic vegetable production as more number of women are expressing interest to join the group. This will not only help in meeting the increasing demand for organic vegetables, but is also expected to increase the incomes of women entrepreneurs by 40-50% in the next five years.
The women consider the organic vegetable production enterprise to be a great success and plan to transform the village into a major organic vegetable production village in the area. They also plan to make their village chemical free in the next five years.
Common Forum for Development (CFD)
P.O.Box 13141, Sundhara Kathmandu Nepal