Saturday, February 14, 2015

Discovering Nepals Sustainable Agriculture

Discovering Nepal's Sustainable Agriculture
written by guest blogger Annie McLaughlin, Canada

Always wanting to explore the Himalayas and having just finished my formal education I was finally able to explore the country I dreamed about. I was even more eager to leave after putting my beds to sleep and getting a 3 foot snowfall after an incredible year of farming in Canada. It was amazing being able to come to a country where in a few hours time you can be in every kind of climate possible. From subtropical jungle to glacier ridges you can easily find everything here.

This particular aspect makes farming in Nepal rather interesting, especially in the winter months as they are cool and dry unlike summers monsoon season. Nepal's perfect winter climate offers opportunity for all cool weather crops as well as offers an abundance of fruits such as apples, oranges, papaya, and grapes. Among Nepal's various winter crops potatoes, mustard, radish and sagg are commonly seen growing on family farms and potatoes is the only recognizable mono crop.  

The first farm I visited was a 16 hour frightening bus ride away from Kathmandu in the Eastern region of Illam. The region is famously known for its quality tea farms, however it was off season for tea so I contacted a fellow Canadian, running Almost Heaven Permaculture farm up in the hills. Perched 1600 ft above the Jhappa valley below, the farm was practicing a variety of permaculture practices as well as grew an abundance of food. I spent the first weeks cobbing the insides of the new stone farm house. Built with materials from within a 7 km radius, the stones that make up the foundation and top section of the house were carried up by hand from the river down the hill. Using a mixture made of clay from the soil, water and cow manure we patched the holes in the passive solar home to give it the insulation it needed for the 7 degree temperatures. Among that there would always be work to do in the garden. Harvesting ginger and carrots or planting potatoes and radish, all were opportunity to learn about Nepal's unique farming methods.

Within a few weeks I was brought down to a second farm in the balmy region of Jhapa. Two hours from the Indian border this subtropic farm was growing bananas and tomatoes as well as wheat and canola. Aiming at being a self-sustainable children's home, the 3 ropani farm was part of a larger land area that belongs to the family of the women that started PA Nepal. Prisoners Assistance Nepal's mission is to rid prisons of unnecessary suffering and hardship, in particular the suffering experienced by innocent children and prisoners who are poor and disadvantaged. The farm in Jhappa offers children an additional education by teaching them about self reliance through food security. Along with growing their own food, this family of 10 children learn about animal husbandry, sustainable forestry and permaculture practices. The benefits of living on a farm are endless for a child and most end up wanting to be farmers in their futures. Jhapa is also home to tons of tropical birds and is a sanctuary for any birdwatcher. At this farm we were busy with the food forest and tree nursery. Aimed at regreening the otherwise rice paddy covered flat lands, tree planting is an essential benefit for air and soil alike. Started either from sapling, cutting or seed they had quite an extensive variety of trees all serving their own purposes.

The lack of tree nurseries around Nepal make it was difficult to source fruit trees. The few that are scattered around Kathmandu valley seem to have been established a long time ago. Planting fruit trees is seen to be a waste of space in many mentalities as the area could be better used to grow crops needed to survive. A nutritious patch of spinach that can feed a family for months triumphs over the sweet taste of fruit. There is extraordinary potential to grow most fruits in Nepal yet still around 80% of the produce is imported from India. Urban agriculture is very popular in cities and many plots are left undeveloped in order to have large scale gardens.

The third farm I visited was a women's shelter in Nagarkot. The owner was a farmer back on her 64 acre  land in the Chitwan and has come to the north to help local women grow independence through farming and practical skills such as sewing. It was among the neighboring farmers that I witnessed the most of the traditional crimes against earth, the infamous slash and burn. Although the composting of animal manure is practiced it is quickly countered by the destruction of tunring nutrient filled biomass into useless char. Although this practice has proven to be destructive it seems to have worked for the past centuries and will be used until composting beings to popularize.

Nepal has unlimited potential for sustainable farming development. The climate, topography, soil and hard workers of this country allow for an abundance for things to grow as water is readily available. Although vegetable varieties are limited, what is grown is everything needed to survive. Organic agriculture is growing in popularity however organic seed is hard to find as well as organic fertilizers.

The experience of being able to learn the Nepali culture and lifestyle revolving around food has given me inspiration on how to adapt Western farming technique to a more simple scale. It turns out we don't need huge tractors and hormones to get our bread and milk, all we need is some hard work and a little more time.

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