Rasuwa, Dhading and Gorkha are among the 14 mountain districts of Nepal that were hardest hit by the April 2015 earthquakes. Sankhuwasabha district was also severely affected and is prone to natural disasters such as landslides. Since 2009, The Mountain Institute (TMI) has worked with farmers in these four districts to sustainably cultivate medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) and sell them for a fair price. After completing initial earthquake relief and response efforts, TMI's Himalayan Program designed the Pragatishil Pahad Project (PPP), which means "Progressive Mountains." This initiative is a two-year effort to support 2,000 households in remote communities as they struggle to recover from the earthquakes' devastation. After a year and a half, families and villages are starting to see solid progress in rebuilding their lives, homes and livelihoods. Their goal is to rebuild in a way that makes their communities more resilient in the face of climate change and future natural disasters.
The Pragatishil Pahad Project is designed to advance the long-term resilience of these hard-hit communities, rehabilitate the mountain ecosystems they rely on, improve and diversify their livelihoods and make local economies more equitable and sustainable. This is being accomplished by integrating sustainable farming of valuable plants with ongoing efforts to rebuild. Another PPP goal is to enable earthquake-affected communities to restore their cultural heritage and resume social and religious practices.
We have seen that MAPs cultivation in mountain districts brings significant additional income that has helped lift farmers--many of them women--out of poverty. TMI has worked hand-in-hand with locals, providing MAPs training and helping to establish MAPs Cooperatives to assure better prices for their valuable products.
Since its inception in the fall of 2015, the PPP has facilitated 35 trainings on MAPs cultivation to over a thousand participants (45% women) in the Project area. All participants received 200 grams of Chiraito (Swertia chirayita) seeds during the training to help start their own cultivation. These farmers-in-training committed to MAPs cultivation on a total of 200 hectares (495 acres) of fallow or degraded private and/or community land. By using traditional and sustainable farming methods, MAPS farmers are also helping mountain environments rebound. Wild harvesting of these valuable plants, and the resulting habitat degradation, has decreased in districts where MAPs cultivation is underway.
In Gatlang VDC of Rasuwa, farmers now have access to a variety of MAPs species thanks to a multi-purpose nursery established as part of the PPP. The communities will now manage these nurseries to expand their MAPs cultivation to include plants for fodder and trees for commercial and domestic uses. The Pragatishil Pahad Project also provided compressor machines to two MAPs Cooperatives in Dhading and Rasuwa along with training in its use and operation. The compressors add value to the cultivated MAPs and other local crops because they compress the harvested plants into large bundles, which decreases the volume and reduces storage and transportation costs.
The income from growing and selling medicinal and aromatic plants has helped families in the four target districts make significant improvements. Local communities have noticed that the income generated from MAPs has had positive impacts on their socio-economic conditions. The farmers have been able to replace their traditional and unsustainable bamboo roofs with Corrugated Galvanized Iron (CGI) sheets. This additional income enables them to provide quality education for their children through sending them to boarding schools and colleges near the district headquarters or the capital city. There are instances where youth migrating to urban areas within Nepal and to other countries for wage labour jobs have returned to their homes because of the opportunities to earn a good living through cultivating MAPs. Here are a few examples from our project area:
Two brothers, Prakash and Sonal Ghale from Tipling of Dhading district, earned US $1,700 by selling 15 kilograms of Chiraito seeds and 225 kilograms of dried Chiraito plants in 2015. This income helped the brothers rebuild their homes that were destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes. They have also been able to move their children to better schools.
Phinsum Sherpa, from Kimathanka of Sankhuwasabha district, produced 79 kilograms of Chiraito plants and generated US$ 800 in 2015. With this income she has started her own enterprise with the establishment of a grinding mill.
Goba Jamyang Bhotia and his wife, Chhijik from Chyamtang of Sankhuwasabha district replaced their old bamboo mat roof with a new, blue metal roof and are also sending their grandchildren to private schools with income from MAPs.
The 2015 earthquakes caused devastating landslides in these districts. There are villages in the Project area that are completely uninhabitable and have been permanently displaced--three in Haku VDC (Rasuwa), 14 in Dhading and three in Gorkha. To address the threat of future landslides in the village of Sano Haku (Rasuwa), members of community forest user groups, plus local youth and mothers' groups, planted over 3,000 saplings of native species to reforest over 1.5 hectares of vulnerable and degraded slopes.
To bolster eco-tourism livelihoods along the Ruby Valley Trek in Dhading and the Tamang Heritage Trail in Rasuwa, the Pragatishil Pahad Project conducted homestay/lodge management training for the owners of 17 businesses with a focus on management, cooking, hospitality and zero waste.
After the earthquakes, two villages were left without a source of drinking water--Sano Haku in Rasuwa and Bramdang in Dhading. In Bramdang the source that served 32 households completely dried up. In Sano Haku, the water source for 100 households was swept away by huge landslides. Women and children had to walk two to three hours on dangerous trails to access drinking water and some displaced households couldn't return to their homes due to water scarcity. In both villages, PPP helped set up Drinking Water User Committees. These committees, in turn, were responsible for planning and coordinating the construction of new water taps. Two such systems are now in use providing Bramdang with three water taps and there are six new taps in Sano Haku. Our Project also provided support for establishing a community trust fund in Chepuwa village (Sankhuwasabha district) to repair and maintain their water supply and sanitation systems, benefitting 150 households with water for domestic and agricultural use.
All the village school buildings and toilets in our project area were completely destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes. In Gatlang VDC, the village School Management Committee asked for our help in building permanent toilets for the school. With funding from The Mountain Institute and labor from the community, we completed three earthquake-resistant toilets to serve the 200 girls, boys and teachers of the Secondary School of Gre Village. This new, resilient structure features an improved water supply and sanitation system and has been approved by the Rasuwa District Education Office and the Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Office.
In Rasuwa and Dhading, the MAPs Cooperatives established by TMI in 2012 were renting buildings. But both structures were destroyed in the earthquakes. The PPP is helping these Cooperatives build earthquake-resistant, multipurpose buildings that will house their offices, provide storage space for MAPs harvests and other crops, plus a multi-purpose room for community gatherings.
The PPP also helped rehabilitate two blacksmith workshops that were completely destroyed in the earthquake. These workshops in Khading village (Lapa, Dhading) were essential for the livelihoods of 29 households of Dalits--a socially marginalized group. The families will be using the two rebuilt community workshops collectively.
Another goal of the PPP is to help earthquake-affected communities to resume their socio-cultural practices by restoring or rebuilding damaged sites that are essential parts of their cultural heritage. The high mountain areas of Nepal are home to indigenous ethnic groups whose rich cultural heritage--beliefs, customs and traditions--are hundreds of years old. With support from our local partners, TMI has been documenting the post-earthquake status of cultural sites in our project area. At the same time we continue to seek funding to restore damaged sites.
We salute our local project partners: The Rural Tourism and Environmental Education Society of Rasuwa (RTEES Nepal); Health, Education, Empowerment and Development in Dhading and Gorkha (HEED Nepal) and The Upper Arun Valley Development and Conservation Society in Sankhuwasabha. Project activities are also coordinated with the District Disaster Relief Committees and other relevant government agencies.
All of us in the Pragatishil Pahad Project are very grateful for the generous support from Fondation Pro Victimis, blue moon fund, LaGuntza Foundation, Nepalese Doctors Association in the UK, Peradam Foundation, Dudley Foundation, Walkinshaw Family Foundation, Harman Family Foundation and many individual donors.
For more about our work in the Himalayas, please visit our website.