Breaking New Ground

Kalpana Thapa, EDWON’s resident agricultural trainer, is crouched over a tiny plot of land covered with a greenish fuzz. Pointing to it, she tells the crowd of women around her that their hard work and attention to detail is paying off. They cheer and laugh.

We are equally excited to share this story of a new Livelihood Project that we have started in Taklung, Gorkha. EDWON has brought in several agricultural experts with whose help members of the local women’s groups are literally breaking new ground. With a broad-based approach incorporating training from experts, cooperative agriculture and marketing, the women are learning new techniques for growing cash crops on their land. The move beyond subsubsistence farming could be life changing. In tune with EDWON’s bottom-up approach, the goal is to enable Dalit and other poor women to lead their community towards a better future, financially and socially.

This summer Kalpana has been living and working in Taklung, a village with 11 veteran women’s groups. She is training 60 women, mostly Dalit, to make the leap to organic cash crops with training both in the field and in the class-room.

Kalpana and other advisors hired by EDWON have proven their techniques in other areas of Nepal. They first taught the women that the most important success factor is selecting crops and varieties appropriate to the region and conditions. The women have learned to test the soil, and how to select the proper field for each crop. They are practicing irrigating with every last drop of available water, and fashioning simple greenhouses out of plastic sheets and bamboo.

As the plants mature, the advisors teach them how to fight disease and insects with herbal remedies and handpicking. Instead of chemical fertilizer, they learn to carefully measure and time the application of manure, so that over the next few years, the hard, yellow soil will be restored to health, while saving money on fertilizer.

Ginger is their first crop, because it is easy to grow and fetches a good price. But tomatoes, cabbage and cauliflower are also being introduced, as the women learn to grow these in specially prepared nursery beds made of old rice sacks.

Meanwhile, Kalpana and EDWON’s staff have formed a local Project Monitoring Group, which includes Dalits and non-Dalits, men as well as women. The PMG monitors the crops, coordinates the training and activities of the project and advocates for the participants. The PMG is also the focus of the “training of trainers” plan so these women can go on to spread their new knowledge. This collaborative approach involving multiple women’s groups is expected to eventually grow into a farming cooperative for distributing and selling the crops.

The program will also involve a marketing strategy to ensure the financial success of the project. In October EDWON celebrated a communal Farmers Day attended by local dignitaries, the media, and representatives from NGOs and the government to sell the produce and to raise awareness of the program and money for replication in other communities.

Women and men farming in rural Nepal have relied on knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Since most innovations and improvements in agricultural methods have never reached them, this training program has generated more excitement than any other EDWON project.. And next year these women will pass their knowledge on to other women in their groups, and most likely to their cousins and sisters in neighboring villages.

With your help, the Taklung women are well on their way to another level of empowerment, and to better health and nutrition for their families. Nepal