For people in the steep foothills of Eastern Nepal, the opportunity to earn income locally can mean the difference between a life of ease and a life of challenge. In communities where few industries exist and there is little access to markets, dZi is working with farmers to grow new skills and increase access to opportunity. By introducing sustainable farming practices, innovative crop training, and neighborhood agriculture groups, residents are able to look beyond subsistence farming and begin to build the foundations of long-term prosperity.
For residents like Chandrakala Rai, finding financial stability has been a life-long journey. Growing up in Gudel, Solukhumbu District, her family farmed the steep hillsides outside their home. She and her three siblings spent their days helping their parents in the fields and with household chores. Chandrakala wanted to attend school, but her family was deeply in debt and couldn't afford to educate their children. As they worked hard to repay their loans, her father passed away and the dream of financial well-being looked even more elusive.
Chandrakala's financial situation improved when she married in her early teens. Her husband had no debt and a sizeable amount of land in the neighboring village of Bung on which they could farm. They lived on a beautiful hillside and worked the land with their children. But things began to change after powerful earthquakes struck Eastern Nepal in 2015. The river that ran through their valley was fed by a glacial lake, and after a series of destabilizing tremors, the lake burst - washing away the land at the base of their steep hillside and causing large amounts of their farmland to slide into the river. Their home had been badly damaged by the earthquake and Chandraka's family took shelter in a government-provided tent. In the blink of an eye, Chandrakala found herself homeless and with a livelihood in shambles. She and her husband had to borrow around $19,000 to start to rebuild their lives - entering back into the cycle of debt that had made her childhood so challenging.
But in 2017, Chandrakala joined dZi's Agriculture Program. She knew she was an incredible farmer but had struggled to make a living despite her tireless work. Now, as a member of the neighborhood agriculture group dZi had formed, Chandrakala was able to receive new seed varieties, cultivation training, and farming equipment. While she's often too busy to attend dZi's training herself, she asks her children to attend and to teach her what they've learned. After five years, Chandrakala and her children can now cultivate onions, tomatoes, chilies, garlic, turmeric, cauliflower, coriander, cabbage, bananas, and more.
In the past, Chandrakala used to buy seeds and sprouts at the beginning of the growing season and would be able to harvest just enough food throughout the year to feed her family. After becoming a member of the agriculture group, she has learned to save seeds and grow her own starter plants. She often does such a good job of growing starter plants in the spring that she has extras to sell to her neighbors. But most importantly, her new cultivation skills have significantly increased her harvests. Now, Chandrakala grows enough food to feed her family and sell in the local market. The $230 a year she pays to rent her farmland used to feel like a burden, but now that her vegetable sales bring in $150 - $230 a month, she can dream of renting more land and expanding her operation in years to come.
Life is still challenging for Chandrakala. Her loan has an interest rate of 30% and requires the family to work together to pay it down. Her husband works in the Everest region and her son is missing seven days of school this fall to carry bags as a porter to assist his parents in repaying their loans. With the concentrated efforts of her son, daughter, and husband, Chandrakala has now been able to pay back $12,000 and is working even harder to pay back the final $7,000.
Despite her belief that she can overcome any challenge, Chandrakala occasionally feels helpless. But through dZi's Agriculture Program, Chandrakala and her community are starting to imagine a different future. By cultivating cash crops, increasing farming yields, and learning how to earn more at market, residents are improving their nutrition and earning regular income in regions where there are few other industries. And through her hard work, Chandrakala is sending her children to school. Having not been able to receive an education herself, she is proud that her farming income can pay for her children's education and ensure that they will have an easier life than she has lived.
Pictures taken by Sitaram Thapa Magar (Samip).