Project 2: Community capacity building for Climate Change
Partners: Practical Action; HICODEF; Sahamati
Location: The Siwaliks (the Nepali foothills of the Himalaya).
Problem: we now have two projects in the Himalayan foothills, the Siwaliks. These are geologically new and form a fragile environment. Entrenched traditional attitudes mean that soil and livestock management is usually poor and existing resources are not being used sustainably. Teaching communities how to improve crop yields and develop products for market is no easy task, but the extraordinary leap in prosperity resulting from our programme in the neighbouring village area of Bhandare has given impetus to the communities.
Solution: education through farmer field schools and a flexible and adaptable approach to the specific needs of each community, for example:
- In Bhandare, an irrigation system needed to be constructed as supply has completely ceased in the dry months.
- Farmer Field Schools across both Kirtipur and Dhabaha presented both positives but also challenges- for example, complications arose from lack of demand for un-shapely organic vegetables in some markets, accustomed to perfectly formed non-organic produce. This problem has been resolved elsewhere by use of information about the importance of organic produce, which we believe will be effective in our case also by ‘marketing’ the mountain organic brand of vegetable.
- The introduction of polytunnels to grow off season vegetables to sell at the market for a premium has been a positive initiative. We are now at the point of initiating a programme to combine the three VDCs of Bhandare, Dhabaha and Kirtipur into an off season vegetable growing cooperative which will build on the assets and training so that cash generation will lift them from subsistence to relative prosperity and food security. Communities are showing a real appetite to push on with this.
- Education on access to markets is especially important as new roads have been built which connects the beneficiary communities to the main district markets. However, uptake of this opportunity has been quite slow and it is important to understand that villagers are, of necessity, conservative in their approach to innovation; they are all too aware of the pitfalls of NGOs offering them a solution in the form of new markets, only to be disappointed either by failures of production or market, with the result that they are in a worse state than they were originally. The communities have therefore decided that they will only set aside a small amount of land (which is in any case at a premium) for experiment and, if all goes well, proceed cautiously from there.
- As a result of our initiative, Forest rights have been registered for Bhandare and Dhabaha, which gives these villages effective ownership of 287 ha of the Nawadurga Community Forest. Forest access is a key element of Himalayan agriculture - forest lands provide fuelwood, fodder for cattle, which in turn provide essential nutrients for the soil, and leaf litter for composting.
At first sight, developing the wide range of responses needed to meet this situation appears daunting. Implementing them effectively presents an even greater challenge. Yet a carefully constructed village based response to climate change can do much to mitigate the problems. As with many parts of South Asia, the village community forms the base unit of government and therefore development. Once effectively motivated, Village Development Committees (VDCs) have an extraordinary capacity for self-improvement. Examples include building schools, introduction of micro-hydro schemes, irrigation and health.