Planting the seeds for Nepal’s recovery

Published: 8 April 2016 4:22 CET

By Phil Johnstone, IFRC

Nearly a year after Nepal’s deadly 25 April 2015 earthquake, the first shoots of hope and recovery are evident on the hills around the Kathmandu valley.

The humble vegetable is playing a crucial role as subsistence for vulnerable farmers as they strive to make a living.

“My potato crop needed planting. Cash from the Red Cross came at exactly the right time,” says Sitaram Lamichhane, 50, a Bhaktapur farmer who lost his house and half his rice store in the earthquake.

“I used the grant money to buy potato seed and hire a tractor and driver to prepare the soil. Without the money I would have struggled to plant in time.”

The disaster hit the financial security of Nepal’s marginalised farmers in numerous ways. Many faced the immediate challenge of creating a temporary shelter and replacing lost food, seeds, tools and animals. With little time or money to spare, some concentrated on growing vegetables to feed their families, rather than raising cash crops.  

Prices of fuel and farming inputs rose, especially from September with the start of a five-month blockage due to protests on the border with India. This coincided with a post-quake economic slow-down, which resulted in less demand for trade and unskilled work, which some farmers relied on to top up their family’s income. 

In the Kathmandu valley, the Nepal Red Cross Society, supported by the British Red Cross and with funding from the UK Disasters Emergency Committee, is rolling out a flexible community-driven programme to boost the food security and income of more than 5,000 farming families in particular hardship.

Conditional grants of 5,000 Nepali rupees (around 45 Swiss francs) have served to  kick-start livelihoods as crops are harvested.

Bhunti Ramtyal, 48, who lost the second floor of her Lalitpur house in the quake, says seeds and fertilizer have increased in price by about 80 per cent in the past year.

“The cash grant was very helpful. I’ve spent some of it on garlic and other seeds and saved the rest to invest soon in tomato and coriander. But it’s tough – our goat died, pests are attacking my crops and I need to learn new ways to keep my plants well. I’m eager to go to a large scale vegetable operation and increase my crops and income.”

Also in Lalitpur, Amrit Silwal, 36, used his grant to employ neighbours to work alongside him. He bought fertilizer, and added cucumber, coriander, radish and cauliflower to his regular plantings of rice, wheat and potato. 

“Without the grant I would have just sown wheat, which requires little care but is less valuable than the vegetables I now have. I’m now going to get a better income.”

Roshani Ghimire, 30, from rural Kathmandu valley, says the Red Cross grant was a gift to her family of four in a tough year.

“It has been a big help for us. Otherwise, we would have to look for loans.

“It would have been very difficult for us had Red Cross not helped us at that time. We have been able to plant, harvest, sell and buy more from the initial crop.” Challenges remain but the prospect of warm weather followed by monsoon rain from July gives vulnerable Kathmandu farmers reason for optimism after the adversity of the past year.

Follow @IFRCAsiaPacific on Twitter for more information on Red Cross recovery efforts in Nepal.