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Discovering Humla

NIRJANA SHARMA

It’s a dream for a Nepali journalist to be given an assignment that takes her away from her daily hectic grinds and allows her to discover a new place.

I recently got an opportunity to visit Humla for a week and I jumped at the chance. The trip has now become the most memorable event of my career.

Humla is one of the many places that were severely affected by the decade-long Maoist insurgency, and the scars can still be seen in almost every resident. Every person I met had his  own war story to tell, and each one was touching and tragic at the same time.

Humla is the only district in the country now which is yet to be connected to the rest of the country through a proper road network. Though crops like paddy, wheat, maize and soybean are cultivated in some places of the district, the produce is just enough for the people’s daily needs. The hardships people have to go through merely to meet their daily needs and make sure their family has enough to eat is heart-wrenching.

The government and some non-government organizations have been sending food to Humla every season but still there’s a crisis when flights to Humla get cancelled due to bad weather for several days in a row.

Weather-wise too, living in Humla poses a challenge ever so often. The maximum temperature in summer is 26 degrees Celsius whereas the mercury dips during the winter months. Almost all parts of the district receive snowfall from November to March and most residents stay cooped up inside their tiny homes from December to February to avoid the freezing cold.

However, the residents of Humla have taken to rebuilding their lives with a strong vigor despite the odds being stacked against them, and are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have. They are now learning to cultivate vegetables and fruits and thus working to a better future.

For me now, Humla doesn’t bring to mind the proverbial underdeveloped district of the Karnali region where most of its people live below the poverty line.

Not anymore!

Instead I think of green pastures, friendly faces and a fighting spirit.

Humla glimmers with hopes for a brighter future.

Humla 01

Shree Singh Sardul Barack is seen in the wetland on the lower parts of Simikot. Humla’s district headquarters was named Simikot or Simkot as the wetland or swampy area in the lowland is known as Sim (simsar) and Kot meaning fort in the medieval age.

Humla 02

The picture shows the Simkot Airport and the surrounding areas. The weather generally remains cloudy during the rainy season because of which many flights get cancelled for several days, namely in July and August.

Humla 03

A girl is in search of fodder on the way to Langna. Though above 90 percent of the children between the age f five to 15 are enrolled in schools, most of them have to help their families in domestic chores, farming and labor work when the schools are closed.

Humla 04

Nanda Bahadur Shahi ploughs his field while his family members are busy tending to buckwheat in Heldum. The locals consume palta (buckwheat leaf) and buckwheat rotis as part of their staple diet.

Humla 05

Humla 06

The pictures show children on the way to fetch water and women carrying laundry to the communal tap in Heldum. Locals have to face double trouble when landslides cut the drinking water and electricity supply during the rainy season.

Humla 07

An elderly woman works on her Chinu farm. The local crop which is similar to paddy is widely cultivated during summer.

Humla 08

A woman appears at a window of a greenhouse built by Dhaneshor Kami, a farmer in Simkot. It’s still compulsory for women belonging to Chhetri, Thakuri and even Dalit families to wear bulaki, big earrings and a long pote necklace.

Humla 09

Tents are erected on the banks of the Hepka River in Dharapori. Tourists heading to Hilsa, Limi, Kailash and Mansarovar often rest here.

Humla 10

Trishana Shahi, 40, is a mother of six children. Her eldest son is 20 years old and the youngest is just three. Kunwar didn’t want to bear more children after having three kids but her husband stood against her decision to opt for sterilization. Humla residents still lack awareness about family planning and preference for sons is higher, especially among the Thakuris.

Humla 11

A girl plays on the school premises in Dharapori village. Children don’t often get to play any kind of sports due to the lack of flat land. Boys sometimes get the opportunity to play volleyball at school but young girls have to either enjoy their Bhandakuti or watch the boys playing.

Humla 12

Samjhaune Budha, 43, a resident of Chari has traveled out of her village only once in her lifetime. Her son took her to Taklakot, the Chinese side of the border. They had to walk for three days to get there. She has not been to any other places of Nepal.

Humla 13

A dense settlement of Syaandaa Village where there are 160 households. Around 60% of the households have toilet facility but only 40 percent actually use it. Defecating in the open is an old habit they can’t seem to get rid of. Some even store hay in the toilet rather than using it as intended.

Humla 14

Locals participate in a prayer at a Church in Simkot. A missionary named Maya Sadan has been actively working to convince locals to convert to Christianity since 2009 and many followers now gather at the church every Saturday. Sadan has also established an orphanage that currently houses 15 children.

Source: Republica Daily

http://e.myrepublica.com/component/flippingbook/book/1320-republica-02-august-2013/1-republica.html

NEW NEPAL: Humla residents learning to cultivate vegetables

NIRJANA SHARMA

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Raj Bahadur Buda’s family in Syanda VDC used to boil rayo leaves with ashes and then drain the mix before consuming it. Cauliflower, cabbages, tomatoes or pumpkin were vegetables they had never heard of.

It was only a few years ago, in 2009, that they came to know that over a dozen of varieties of vegetables could be grown in their own backyard throughout the year. Now the family can’t do without these “new” vegetables that have become part of their daily diet.

The family members – 17 of them – consume around four kilograms of vegetables everyday and still have enough left over to sell in the market. Now Buda, 29, who earlier used to work as a labor in Simikot is completely dedicated to farming.

It’s not Buda’s family alone who has begun vegetable farming. As many as 650 households in Humla have been involved in it for the last few years. Before 2009, the only green vegetables the residents of Humla knew of were palta (buckwheat leaf), sisnu and asuro (nettle, and a turnip-like local vegetable) with lakkad (local name for rotis made from buckwheat).

Photos- Nirjana Sharma

Darshan Rokaya, 37, remembers the time when asuro with lakkad was the most common dish prepared at home during the winter. Recently, the family bought 20 kilograms of rice by selling vegetables grown on their farm.

Humla is a place where the maximum temperature in winter remains at an all-time low, almost always in the minus, and thus it’s difficult for the residents to grow crops throughout the year. The local items, including palta, sisnu, bean and potatoes were the most common vegetables grown from mid-April to mid-October, the most favorable time for farming in Humla, as the temperature goes up to 26 degree Celsius at 2,300 to 3,000 meters above sea level.

Trishana Shahi, 40, a hotel owner at Dharapori VDC, says she used to buy vegetables for guests at her hotel and the expense was taking its toll on her business. She was suffering from heavy losses. But now the situation is improving. The vegetable production based on greenhouse farming has significantly improved her business besides feeding her family of six proper meals.

“The guests used to ask for cauliflower, cabbages and pumpkin but we did not know how to grow or cook those vegetables,” she adds. Trekkers on their way to Hilsa and Limi Valley stay in her hotel. Many others headed to Kailash and Mansarovar take shelter in tents on the bank of Hepka River that adjoins Karnali River flowing north to Dharapori VDC.

When asked how progressive the farming trend has been for the residents of Humla, Dhane Pariyar, 67, of Syanda remembers that one of his villagers had been to Kashmir and brought apple saplings which are still benefiting the new generations for apple farming in the village. That was perhaps the first incident that set of the trend of farming in Humla. Being deprived of basic knowledge and communication with the rest of the world due to lack of proper roads, it was not easy to convince the locals to start new cultivation.

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The locals would defy using improved seeds, shared Jeet Bahadu Buda, a local field observer deployed by the Humla Development Initiative (HDI). The HDI initially formed different committees in various communities throughout the villages for interaction and sharing among the farmers and organized farmers’ tours to different agricultural farms across the country.

Witnessing the success of new farming techniques, many others have also shown interest in cultivating vegetables, said Rekha Shahi, another field observer of Tuling village.

Greenhouse farming – a boon for the locals Snowfall reaches upto six feet during winter, from November to March, and the three months from December to February are even tougher for the locals. Thus greenhouse farming has proven to be a boon for the residents.

While others used to stay inside their warm and cozy rooms during the mid-winter, Samjhaune Buda, 43 of Chari village would be busy clearing snow to pave her way to the greenhouse. She is one of first to begin greenhouse farming in Humla in 2009. Buda is now considered an expert farmer for cultivating onion and garlic.
With 22 to 26 degree Celsius temperature, greenhouse is not very good during the warmer months but the productivity doubles during the winters.

Today, around 45 households are carrying out professional farming in greenhouses, and the farmers have witnessed double production inside the enclosed area.
Chakra Bahadur Shahi of Heldum VDC says that he could not recognize the seeds in the beginning and was quite doubtful that there would be any positive outcome. But soon he was producing vegetables in excess, ensuring a substantial income for a family man who has six members relying on him. At the rate of Rs 100 per kilo, he made a profit of Rs 20,000. Similarly, he made Rs 21,000 by selling rayo and coriander leaves alone.

“I’m happy that the loan I took to start a greenhouse farming venture did not go in vain,” he mentions. Shahi had taken a loan of Rs 50,000 from the bank. He pays Rs 9,000 per month to the bank now to repay the loan.

Just within four months from mid-January to mid-June, six farmers in the district earned Rs 50,000 from rayo leaves alone whereas Dhanasur BK profited around Rs 30,000 from his greenhouse..

Following the production of rayo, coriander and Swiss leaves in all seasons, the locals are now habituated to consume noodles with the leaves. Likewise, tomato, bean, pumpkin, carrot, cauliflower and cabbage are common vegetables noticed in most of the farms now.

However, the production is not going well in every household due to the lack of proper knowledge to protect the plants. Similarly, heavy rainfall and landslide also affected the farmers this year. Aite Sunuwar of Heldum invested Rs 300,000 to construct a greenhouse but a landslide thwarted his efforts.

How the agriculture plan got implemented
According to Yogi Kayastha, Program Coordinator of the HDI, the tendency of the government and non-government organizations to provide money rather than training was a big hurdle to improving the food security of the residents of Humla.

“The HDI has redefined food security in Humla by making people capable to produce food and earn a decent living by themselves,” he claimed.

Earlier, people did not sell goods but practiced barter which was abolished from the rest of Nepal years ago. People have now realized that they cannot make money if they fail to sell goods. Now they have started to buy and sell which is a significant change, Yogi added.

But as an effort to develop the locals’ ownership towards their vegetable production campaign, the HDI does not bear the total costs of constructing greenhouses. The organization partially helps farmers with plastics and ropes and skilled field observers instruct them how to farm inside it. It has also formed a small group in every village to share ideas among its members and also other villagers to boost the vegetable production project.

Approved seeds that are experimented in agricultural farms in the National Agriculture Research Center of Khumaltar in Lalitpur are distributed to the locals. Similarly, seeds produced in the agriculture research farms of Lumle and Chitwan are also distributed to the farmers.

Humla’s role model farmer

Kal Bahadur Singh, 46, is gaining much popularity among the residents of Humla for his success in vegetable farming. A resident of Kholsi Village, Singh experiments with new vegetable varieties on his farm and also instructs other locals on vegetable cultivation.

Singh has been using the seeds provided by HDI for three years. From one kilogram of garlic seed planted in his farm, he reaped 50 kilograms  this year. He has made Rs 60,000 from garlic alone in three years.

Generally, the farmers grow twice in one season inside their greenhouses. But Singh succeeded in taking his vegetable produce to the market  thrice since February. Still unfamiliar for most of the residents, ladies fingers and brinjals grown on his farm are sold at Rs 15 per piece.

The Humlis are dependent on air cargo for mutton and chicken which become quite expensive as soon as they arrive at Simikot. Thus rabbit farming is also attracting farmers. Singh started rabbit farming with a pair in 2010 and has already sold 47 pairs till now. A pair of one-month-old rabbits costs Rs 1,500 in Simikot.
Though he has stood economically sound among his villagers, Singh is concerned over the difficulties the locals are facing in the underdeveloped place. The decade-long Maoist’s insurgency had already left the district behind all others. But neither the CA elections nor the conclusion of the Peace Process have boosted the people’s lives.

While his wife tends the plants, he carries the vegetable in a doko to Dharapori and also sometimes to the district headquarters at Simkot which is four hours’ walk from his village. A local crop  Entrepreneurs say that vegetable prices have dropped after the residents started producing at the local level. The prices of vegetables brought by air  would begin from Rs 200 per kilo. But the local produce are stable at Rs 100 to Rs 200, according to Adan Kumar Shahi, a shopkeeper at Simikot.
In a bid to ensure market for the locally produced vegetables, the HDI has established a vegetable collection center at Simikot. Though the demand for vegetable is ever increasing, most farmers prefer to sell the product in and around their own locality, he added.

nirjanasharma@gmail.com

Source: Republica Daily
Published on 2013-07-26 13:31:10