by Bryan Lieblik, Tevel Fellowship
Each day in the Agriculture Thematic Group brings new activities of all varieties: whether teaching local farmers to intercrop high-value ginger and corn for higher yields and increased income opportunities, how to build plastic ponds for water collection, or improving output easily with trainings in how to make pest-repelling fertilizer using local plants, we always try to help out the farmers in a way which is relatable and relevant to their communities.
Agriculture is the main economic activity in our community of Bhwasa, and each household relies on their agricultural outputs for every part of their lives. They grow their own food, as well as “grow” their income to pay for everything from rent, to their childrens’ school uniforms, to their tools and seeds for the next season. Like many other Nepali rural communities, Bhwasas’ geographical isolation is also a barrier preventing new agricultural techniques and methods from being learned and assimilated locally. In these past seven months, we have learned how best to relate to the farmers and to try to have good examples and proof in our “demonstration farms” that these methods actually work. Sometimes farmers are wary of the new methods, as they may contradict local assumptions or practices, and as a farmer so dependent on your production for livelihood, implementing new techniques carries with it considerable risk. On our demonstration farms we’re able to show the success of these new methods. Not only that, but we’re creating experimental spaces where group members can try out their own ideas with less risk and encourage members to voice and test their own ideas. Having the farmers work on our demo-farms, implementing new techniques themselves, and seeing the results, we are making it easy to take what they have learned and apply it in their own fields. Better crops and better harvests mean a better life, so we take our work very seriously.
While the farmers groups and demonstration farms are growing stronger daily, there are some problems for which we haven’t found solutions. The saying goes “Water is life,” but it’s water which Bhwasa is severely lacking. Many people, including our own neighbors, don’t always have enough water for drinking and cooking, let alone for their gardens and fields. Almost everyone in the community, from seven-year-olds to seventy-year olds trudge up and down the mountain to the community tap just to bring enough drinking water for the day. Living in the community, the Fellows are better able to understand the nature of the water crisis here, as we have to carry our own water side-by-side with our neighbors.
We have been lucky enough to have visits from two water engineers, who also agree that this situation may become untenable. However, we are looking on the bright side, as we are seeking solutions for this problem, such as rainwater-harvesting with easy-to-install gutters for peoples’ homes and revitalizing traditional water conservation ponds. Currently we’re already implementing less capital intensive methods of water conservation, such as focusing on low-water crops and greywater collection for kitchen gardens. Yet these techniques are not a panacea and there’s much more work to be done. We’re working with our farmers groups to create resilient community institutions that can identify potential projects and channel local resources into productive projects.
Coming from an engineering background, it has been challenging but highly rewarding to work in agriculture with Tevel. Back home, it is so easy to walk into a grocery store and pick out produce from all over the world, but seeing what time, effort, sweat, and hard work goes into producing even one pound of vegetable has given all of us a new appreciation for the farmers who grow our food all over the world.