NEPAL — The Dalit caste is historically one of the most economically marginalized and under-resourced communities in Nepal, with the Dalit women being treated the worst. Without access to income, Dalit women and children live in entrapping poverty. Dalit women do not have access to education and have only limited access to health services. Since they have little control over their resources, they can’t invest in projects to improve their families’ food security, livelihoods and prosperity. Agroecology in Nepal is offering a solution to these women that will help them and their communities.
Women’s Savings and Credit Groups
Strikingly, 90 percent of the Dalit people in Nepal live below the poverty line. Often, Dalit men leave the home to work as migrant or day laborers, leaving women to fill the role as the head of the household. This fact, coupled with the destruction caused by natural disasters, makes for an economically tenuous landscape for Dalit women. Women’s credit and saving groups provide an entry point to combat poverty in Nepal and, simultaneously, situate women as the spearheads for development within their communities.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Groundswell are working to set up these types of systems around the world. They have noticed that, when women assume the head of the household, the majority of their money gets reinvested into their children, their household, and in this case, their credit group. This contributes to the overall health of the community, which is the cornerstone ideology of BBP-Pariwar’s work in the hills that surround Kathmandu.
BBP-Pariwar has partnered with Groundswell in Nepal to work with 44 women’s saving and credit groups to economically empower the status of women farmers as well as to help them develop sustainable farming practices. BBP-Pariwar works to foster a constructive environment in which women may analyze their situation, identify existing problems and then choose, plan and implement the best solutions.
Once a savings or credit group is formed, a group of women pays roughly 50 Nepalese rupees per month (0.77 USD) into one account. When one of the women needs a loan, she can draw from the account and will pay it back with interest over a reasonable amount of time. This process repeats among the women as needed and builds the net worth of the entire group.
Agroecology in Nepal
Many Nepalese farmers have had to abandon organic agriculture in favor of hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These households face pressure to maximize their harvests, but many families’ land holdings are actually insufficient to achieve subsistence. Groundswell and BBP-Pariwar are using agroecology in Nepal as an alternative to industrial agricultural practices since it promotes biodiversity and has proven to be more effective in providing food security among smallholder farmers.
Agroecology is the application of ecological science to agriculture. It encompasses a wide variety of practices, with three key principles of environmental preservation, social fairness and economic stability. Agroecology utilizes indigenous knowledge, tried-and-true agricultural methods and promotes cultural heritage. Case studies based on data extracted from communities practicing agroecology in Africa, compiled by the Oakland Institute, for example, exemplify the benefits of agroecology. These benefits include:
Maize yields increased three-fold.
Kenyan farmers who adopted the Grow Biointensive approach, using mainly compost, close spacing of plants and intercropping, increased their yields by 2-4 times compared to conventional farming while using 70 to 90 percent less water.
Ethiopia saw a doubling of Tigray’s grain yield between 2003 and 2006 while fertilizer use decreased by 40 percent.
Agroecology and Food Insecurity in Nepal
In 2017, around 518,000 Nepalese children under the age of five were suffering from acute undernutrition or wasting. Food insecurity is worse in rural regions where the lack of access to food combined with poverty limits the nutrition available to families. By implementing agroecological practices and helping to establish credit systems, BBP-Pariwar and Groundswell have helped marginalized women recognize the usefulness of agroecology in Nepal by implementing fodder production on terraces, improved livestock husbandry and diversification of crops to include medicinal herbs, vegetables and fruit.
Agroecology in Nepal has gained traction among smallholder farmers and is becoming more and more supported. Local Initiative for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) is a non-profit in Nepal dedicated to the “sustainable management of natural resources for improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers.” LI-BIRD has invested in smallholder Nepalese farmers access to quality seeds by establishing community seed banks. Furthermore, Nepal’s Agricultural Development Strategy 2015 to 2035, a plan produced by the government, embraces agroecology in Nepal as a viable strategy.
In pairing women’s credit systems and agroecology in Nepal, the country furnishes an arsenal to transcend poverty in areas where communities, but especially women, are historically marginalized. BBP-Pariwar and Groundswell exemplify that if women’s credit systems and agroecology in Nepal really take off, the country could work towards combating poverty and food insecurity as well as become more resilient in the face of natural disasters and climate change.
– Sasha Kramer