Nepal

The return from "the field"

The field team (Katie+Jessica+Bikash) returned yesterday from Dolakha having completed 79 household surveys, 18+ district level interviews, 10+ leading farmer/key informant interviews, 5 focus groups (organized and informal) and numerous informal interviews and observation experiences. 

We were able to gather interesting and provocative data around several of our project topics including agricultural transition, technology adoption, issues surrounding relief, recovery and reconstruction, roles of ngo/ingo/government in aforementioned activities, market-oriented activities, and status of ecosystem and community services post-disaster.  

On top of it all - we attended a Thamang wedding and funeral, visited Kalinchock (K+J), hosted our own house party (?!), suffered only minor leech attacks (Katie was the exclusive victim), performed an interpretive dance and rowdy version of 'the wheels on the bus' at the local school, and ate our weight in famous Dolakha potatoes. We made wonderful and warm connections, met a whole host of fascinating 'characters', and have ALOT of new facebook friends. 

Jess, Bikash and Katie atop a bus returning to Charikot 

Jess, Bikash and Katie atop a bus returning to Charikot 

Learning from the ladies in Sundrawati

Learning from the ladies in Sundrawati

Hanging with Boch's best and brightest young teachers at the SaraSwathi English Boarding School

Hanging with Boch's best and brightest young teachers at the SaraSwathi English Boarding School

Surveys and laughter high in Sundrawati's ward 6

Surveys and laughter high in Sundrawati's ward 6

Bikash in his element - forming relationships and getting the local scoop

Bikash in his element - forming relationships and getting the local scoop

Jess doing a little work trade - weeding in the garden for an interview

Jess doing a little work trade - weeding in the garden for an interview

Katie interviewing community forest president, Lakshmi

Katie interviewing community forest president, Lakshmi

Katie and Jess before storming the district offices...charming the "boss of bosses" with card games and badmitton

Katie and Jess before storming the district offices...charming the "boss of bosses" with card games and badmitton

The Feminization of Agriculture in Nepal

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The feminization of Nepal's remote villages is becoming increasingly visible. The very young and old remain while the youth, due to decreasing crop yields, demand for cash income and interest in more 'modern' lifestyles, seek opportunity elsewhere, often in Kathmandu or abroad. 

For more, check out an article by our research partners at Forest Action: Feminization of Agriculture and its Implications for Food Security in Rural Nepal

Post-disaster community resilience in Nepal

On the 25th and 26th of April and 12th of May Nepal was struck by massive earthquakes. One year later we wanted to explore which farming systems fared better or worse after this natural disaster, and better understand the aid and development landscapes. We travelled to Charikot, the district headquarters of Dolakha and one of the hardest hit districts where 99% of all houses were partially or completely destroyed, to begin our fieldwork at the second epicentre of the 2015 earthquakes.

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 |  Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 | Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

The post-earthquake situation

From our first field site of Sundrawati, we have seen responses to the earthquake unfolded in stages. Community members were the first to act, neighbors helped clear debris and search for survivors and dead. INGOs and NGOs flooded in soon after. Though the national government aimed to keep a “one door” policy, chaos soon ensued as aid in the forms of food, materials and money arrived from across the globe as was asymmetrically distributed. However, this initial influx of aid was followed by a period of “limbo” with reluctance to rebuild, as locals feared they would not receive government-promised support if they showed individual initiative.

Farming communities were among the most heavily affected by the earthquake. Farmers had to prioritize cuing for relief materials over planting seeds and tending fields. Now, a year later, shelter, food security and livelihoods remain top priorities. Many continue to live in “cottages” made of tin and timber, unable to build a more “safe and comfortable” shelter. Others continue to camp in rudimentary shelters awaiting aid and many farms remain fallow. As the agriculture officer in the district capital of Chandrikot lamented: “the quake has set back farming development by at least 10 years”.

“Black gold and green deserts”

Nepal is in the midst of deep agricultural transition. Subsistence farming practices are giving way to more market-oriented approaches and causing manifold landscape change, irrespective of the earthquakes. Instead of traditional maize, rice and millet, kiwi and potato provide quick cash and income with less labor input. In the post-disaster period, these changes have catalyzed this transformation. Disturbed post-disaster landscapes in Nepal are particularly suited to cardamom, which can be intercropped under early successional alder stands (Alnus nepalensis; otis). Local farmers refer to cardamom as black gold because of its easy cultivation, high market value, and potential for perennial production of up to 10-20 years. Even on the most highly valued farmland growing cardamom allows farmers to make an easy profit with which they purchase their staple foods, such as rice.

Not all landscape change is positive. Many small-scale farmers, seeking to optimize labour inputs, are converting their most marginal fields to pine forests (Pinus roxburgii). Pine’s shallow root systems exhaust critical water resources, leaving little for other understorey species, hence the term “green deserts”. Though the timber can eventually be sold, the payback period is long and clear cutting leaves slopes vulnerable to landslide and erosion.

“No water – no food”

Despite historically pervasive tensions over water use in the region, post-earthquake damage to spring sources and irrigation infrastructure have heightened conflicts. Large cracks in water-heavy paddy fields prevented rice cultivation the first season after the earthquake, aggravating food security throughout rice-dependent Nepal. Village dependent spring sources were widely reduced or disappeared due to sub-surface tremors altering water tables. Some new sources appeared, but far too few to make up for the loss. Throughout mid-mountain Nepal, these shifting landscape patterns are accompanied by increasing impacts from climate change and have exacerbated migration from the hills.

We hope our research can show how the future of Nepali farming systems and food security remains inextricably entwined with its water and forest resources, and require the capacity to cope and adapt to environmental shocks.

Social Science Baha

Katie and I will present our first paper from this research (on cardamom cultivation and agricultural transitions) at the Social Science Baha’s Annual Conference on Nepal and the Himalaya, 27-29 July 2016 in Kathmandu.

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 |  Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 | Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 |  Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 | Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 |  Cardamom intercropped under a canopy of alder, Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 | Cardamom intercropped under a canopy of alder, Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 |  Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 | Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 |  Home destroyed by the 2015 earthquake in Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal

Photo: DiCarlo 2016 | Home destroyed by the 2015 earthquake in Sundrawati, Dolakha District, Nepal