Provision of training and support to farmers in Kaule, Nepal in order to help transition from common terrace farming to Agroforestry.
Kaule is situated in Okharpauwa VDC at the border between the Kathmandu and Nuvakot districts. The common farming method here is terrace farming, and farmers have created small terraces which offer room for a very limited selection of crops; typically maize, millet and rice. The terraces are irrigated artificially through the redirection of natural water currents.
The current form of terrace farming exposes the area to serious threats. Soil erosion, water pollution, and a depletion of the botanical and zoological species seriously jeopardize the ecological balance of the hilly landscapes around Kathmandu.
From an economic point of view, due to the small terrace size, the amount of harvested goods is limited and therefore barely allows farmers to make a living. Only growing a few species of crops makes the fields, and thus the farmers' living base, more vulnerable to insects, plant diseases, and natural disasters like tempests or draught.
Traditional farming is a physically demanding and time consuming task without any use of modern technology. Despite farmer's efforts, their income only barely covers basic needs. Local families cannot afford health care or primary education, let alone higher education for their children.
Start of Project: The First Part
In 1994, the Nepalese Biologist Kamal Ray offered training and material to farmers, in order to allow them to switch from terrace farming to the so-called Agroforestry, (hereafter AF), an alternative system that is based on the cultivation of a mix of local plants and crops.
AF was new and unknown to the farmers. They first reacted with mistrust and did not recognise the advantages of a project which requires three to five years for the system change to be complete. As their income would not be guaranteed during this period, most of the ten families that had been initially interested quit the project. At the time this risk could not be avoided.
Only one farmer, Jush Ram Tamang and his family changed to AF and stayed with it until they became self-sufficient. The family has been using AF ever since and their income is now clearly above their neighbours', who continue to make a living from using traditional farming methods.
The income generated through AF allows Jush's family not only to cater to their needs and feed their livestock, it also covers the university degree of their eldest daughter in Kathmandu.
The Underlying Philosophy
Agroforestry is a form of land cultivation where crops are cultivated in one-year cycles and are grown among trees, whose growth cycle goes over many years. An agroforestry farm hence cultivates a variety of plants with different growth cycles and which optimizes the soil.
The plants utilized can differ in each AF system, but it always includes a combination of crops, medicinal plants, and plants used for religious purposes with a variety of trees.
At first sight, the area looks like a jungle. However, rather than an uncontrolled force of nature, AF is a well balanced system where plants are grown together that are actually enhancing each other's growth. For example, plants that are able to fixate inorganic nitrogen from the air into usable ammonia are grown next to plants that need a high nitrogen concentration for optimal growth.
What is more, AF creates a balanced flora and fauna. In fact, the increased diversity of plants attracts more animals, i.e. insects, birds and rodents. Fish ponds are included in the system which provide a further food source to the farmers and the soil, and natural fertilizers such as processed buffalo dung are used instead of artificial ones.
This way, Af creates an ecosystem which compared to the currently prevailing terrace farming is much more stable, independent and sustainable. From an economic point of view, the great variety of the plants and their different cycles means farmers have an extended harvest period and this consolidates their income further.
This way, AF creates an ecosystem which, compared to the currently prevailing terrace farming, is much more stable, sustainable, and independent.
From an economic point of view, the great variety of the plants and their different cycles means farmers have an extended harvest period and this improves their income.
What the Future Holds: Next Steps
Nowadays, Jush Ram Tamang's neighbours are highly motivated to change to Agroforestry. At present, as many as fifteen farmers are committed to take part in the project which will be run on 3.52 ha of farm land. They will need material and training which they receive from our association and local business partners. With this help we aim for the local farmers to become autonomous and to convert more farmers in surrounding areas to the new method. Current project members are to expected to be an example and to share their experience and knowledge.
Teamwork and mutual support will help protect against the financial risks in the first years of the project. People in Kaule live together in a community spirit and they provide support for each other.
Micro-credits, small loans at very low interest, are another means to provide financial resources. They have become popular in NICs (newly industrialised countries) in recent years and are allocated by several banks for development.
The strong value of the Euro and Dollar in Nepal does in principle allow effective intervention with comparatively small funds. It is however clearly not our intention to provide the farmers' income during the project. Farmers involved in the project are aware and will need to be ready to deal with difficulties involved with changing to the new farming system will bring about, and how to overcome them with our support.