Improving the diet of smallholder farmers with SAFBIN

  • Dipendra Lamsal
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Walking quickly among the rice fields, fruit trees and grass, Mrs. Johara Buda led the SAFBIN* team to her house in Laitikoili village, Surkhet district. She was eager to share her story with the visitors. After all, Mrs. Buda had been a participant of SAFBIN 1 too, and 3 years on is still enjoying the results from that first phase of the programme. Climbing the small stairs to her rooftop, she pointed at the pumpkins growing there: “This is still from the seeds of SAFBIN 1” – the same goes to the pomegranate and guava trees seen on the way.

In the first phase of the programme, from 2011 to 2016, new varieties of rice which are more tolerant to drought were introduced in Laitikoili village. There, agriculture relies on rainwater, which is a major problem outside of the Monsoon season. Not all houses have their own taps, and villagers use their gagris to collect water from the nearest stream. Ironically, the area is also prone to floods during the Monsoon. In August 2014, devastating floods in the district took 115 lives and displaced 2,329 households. Thus, disaster risk reduction is an important component of any project developed there.

The variety of drought-tolerant rice called Sukkha-2 was introduced into Laitikoili in 2011, and the smallholder farmers are still using it. Some of them are now able to sell their surplus rice, while other smallholders and even Caritas Nepal purchase seeds from them. Presently, 3 new varieties are being tested: Bahuguni-1, Sukkha-6 and Sukkha-3. SAFBIN team, along with the farmers, will analyse the productivity of the new varieties by checking the amount harvested per hectare.

Mrs. Buda recalls that, before SAFBIN, they used to cultivate only 3 or 4 vegetables, such as radish or mustard. Cauliflower and others had to be purchased from the local market. “We received more than 10 different types of seeds from SAFBIN. Now we consume fresh vegetables all year long, and different kinds of beans”, she says. Her husband, Mr. Bhakta Bahadur Buda, complements:

“I am 70 years old and plough all the field myself!”

She does all the household activities too. “We get a lot of vitamins”.

He also says that there is a problem of labour in the village, because the men go either abroad or to other areas of Nepal to look for employment. Their two sons, for example, serve the Nepali and Indian armies – a fact that both parents mentioned more than once with great pride. The couple is from Jumla, mountainous district of Nepal, and got married when they were only 14 years old. Their parents had decided on their union even before they were born.

In this second phase of SAFBIN, Mrs. Buda also participated of a training on mushroom cultivation, which is a promising feature of the programme in the village. Caritas Nepal provided capacity building and the seeds. Farmers outside of the programme were able to attend the training for free, but purchased the seeds from a local distributor. Smallholders in Laitikoili can use the straw that remains after the rice is harvested, and if the cultivation succeeds, there is opportunity to sell their produce in the nearby market of Surkhet.

“We are worried and excited. Before, we used to buy mushrooms to consume. This year we did not take the risk of doing this collectively, so we are growing them individually. If it works, we will do it collectively and in a bigger scale. Our wish is to do it in a collective manner”,

Mrs. Buda says with confidence. After all, so many things have already changed there, and one more challenge is seen as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

*SAFBIN stands for “Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network”, and is implemented by Caritas Organisations in South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan). The main concept of the programme is to empower smallholder communities to maximize the use of available resources, to increase their production and income, improve their capacity to consume a balanced diet, adapt to climate change and disasters, as well as access to water, seeds and knowledge on small farming.

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