In January 2008 Yael Falicov, IDEX’s Director of Programs, met with the 70 members of three of ASHA women’s groups in Okarpauwa municipality, a hilly area about 45 minutes northwest of Kathmandu. This is her report from that meeting.
Most people here, like the majority of Nepalis, are subsistence farmers. Some had walked for two hours to come to the meeting.
They greeted us sitting in a circle on mats in the mud-baked patio of a woman's home. The women spoke at length about the improvements to their crop yields they have achieved with sustainable agriculture training provided by ASHA, and the links to the market they have made as a group. They can sell collectively in bulk more effectively than trying to sell the 5 or 10 pounds each one produces separately. And now, for the first time, a vendor comes up the road every week to collect the crops, where before they would have to trek to the city to sell at the market.
Some of the women brought out their seeds and showed me how they have learned to protect them from moths by using jars lined with local herbs and ash, whereas before they hung them in handkerchiefs which would get eaten by the moths. Through more effective seed saving, they keep funds previously used to travel to the city and buy seeds at the market. Similarly, they told me how they used to buy insecticides, even though they couldn't read the directions on the bottles. Now they know how to use herbal preparations to fight common pests, and they are happy that their children eat pesticide-free.
In addition to the agriculture activities, each group has started a small savings and loan fund. The women each give a put 75 cents a month into the fund. This money is used to provide loans to members to improve their income. Each group currently has a savings fund of $500 - $1000. This is entirely from their own earnings, so they owe no institution or moneylender. They use the fund to take out three-month loans to buy a goat, or pay school fees, or lease land. When I asked they said it hasn't been hard for them to both collect their savings quota and pay back their loans. They have learned to plan ahead, but if they fall short one month they might go work for a few hours as a wage laborer, or borrow the amount from a friend or two.
With support from ASHA professionals, the women went to the municipal office for the first time to present a proposal handwritten on their official community letterhead requesting support for the construction of the stall, which will double as their group meeting space and area to receive visitors. Thanks to this effort, the municipality has pledged 10,000 Rupees (about US$150) towards the construction.
Fruit cultivation training and support
ASHA is currently promoting food security by providing training in sustainable fruit cultivation. The women participating in this training live in an area that is favorable to the production of sub tropical fruits and thus, ASHA has developed a training program to encourage the production of fruits such as pomegranate, mandarin orange, sweet orange and lemon.
ASHA’s training consisted of bringing in knowledgeable farmers on fruit cultivation to share and exchange existing information, knowledge and skills to produce fruits in this area. In addition to the fruit cultivation training, ASHA provided fruit saplings to members of Jalukeni and Jaleshwori women groups. In total 44 women participated in this training.
Seed Saving Scheme
ASHA/Nepal, provides support to three women groups in Nuwakot, one of the remotest districts in Nepal. Since 2004 nearly 70 women, members of these 3 women groups and their family members have benefited from this project. The project focuses to strengthen the management capacity of these women, to empower them for their basic rights, and to uplift their living standards by establishing sustainable and regular income sources for their day-to-day basic needs.
The community members receive guidance and technical support on seed production, management and storage of major crops, i.e., vegetable crops and maize. The farmers produce and store the seeds in their own fields. In the course of production and storage of seeds, the group members are mobilizing the locally available resources. They use mud and straw structures for storage and botanical extracts are used to protect the seeds from pests and diseases. They have also developed a seed exchange within the community.
ASHA/Nepal is putting its focusing on conservation and the management of seeds of local crops. They ultimately want to minimize dependency on external seed varieties and encourage the women groups’ self-reliance on seeding material. This would mean women do not have to buy seeds every year, and by knowing the source of the seeds and how they perform, they can produce improved yields.
So AHSA are training community members and providing technical support on seed production, management and storage of crops. This encourages seed exchange within the community. In turn this will also ensure availability of quality planting materials for the next cropping season, minimize external dependency on seed sources, encourage seed exchange at the local level and make the community capable in conserving of crop cultivars.
The women group members managed the seeds of the following vegetable and cereal crops that suits the existing agro-ecological condition:
• Pumpkin (two types)
• Bitter gourd
• Swiss chard
• Broad leaf mustard
“Sustainable agriculture training has increased our confidence”: Participants' perception on its importance
“Previously, we were absolutely ignorant with management of local resources in farming. Now, we can prepare manures and pesticides from our own local resources. It has made our agriculture more productive and saved the money. It has also saved our environment from degradation such as soil erosion, water and air pollution. Furthermore, it has increased our access to safe and healthy food as well as created a source for income generation.
All of the above-mentioned advantages were due to sustainable agriculture training and regular technical assistance of ASHA/Nepal team. Now, we have learned and adopted the sustainable agriculture practices and also suggest other farmers to adopt this. It has basically motivated us on mobilization of existing resources for agriculture purpose so that it can sustain in the community.” - Mrs. Sita Phuyal, Jaleshwori Women Group
Since February ASHA/Nepal has organized a one-day Sustainable Agriculture Refresher Training for 70 women. Agricultural experts, Mr. Alok Shrestha and Ram Sharan Shrestha, facilitated the training.
The sustainable agriculture training focused on its significance and practices that women can apply to assist in the improvement of their local livelihoods. The training reviewed and familiarized the participants on different approaches and practices of sustainable agriculture, encouraging women for proper utilization of existing local resources. The training also created awareness on the negative impacts of using conventional fertilizers and pesticides. The training gave an opportunity to the women to exchange information, knowledge and skills among each other.
Other themes that were taught in the training: soil and water management, moisture management techniques, soil organic matter and plan nutrient management techniques, sloping agriculture land technology, seed management, insect pest management and disease management.
Training was also carried out with field exercises so that the women could directly practice in their fields. In addition, ASHA’s consultants visited the community at least monthly to provide onsite coaching and technical assistance to women in sustainable agriculture.
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IDEX Latin America Program Director