Cutting Paths Of Prosperity
From the surface ‘Sabal’ a USAID funded project working in eastern hills of Nepal would look like any other ubiquitous NGOs hawking dreams of prosperity. But a close observation of the dozens of coordinated activities being implemented there would reveal that this project is slowly transforming the lives of the people struggling for better life in harsh climatic and geographical conditions.
This programme, being implemented by Save the Children in collaboration with a consortium of 10 partner national and international NGOs, is perhaps the first such project which has obtained the widest possible bye-in from the direct and indirect beneficiaries and other stakeholders. Initially designed to be implemented within a time span of five years beginning from 2015, this programme has the objective of enhancing livelihood capacities and resilience of the targeted vulnerable communities in the eastern hills.
The programme tailored for implementation in six districts including Makwanpur, Sindhuli, Ramechhap, Khotang, Okhaldhunge and Udayapur. However, ‘USAID also extended this programme to other five earthquake affected districts to help people respond to disastrous impact of the earthquakes and recover from the shock’, says Tim Finnan, a professor of anthropology from Arizona University USA who is here as a team leader of a mid-term evaluation of the Sabal project. The extended five districts include Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Kavrepalanchok, Sindhupalanchok and Dolakhha considered to have been heavily impacted by the earthquake.
This programme is running in close coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture Development, Ministry of Health and Population, Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development at the central level and the district line agencies on the thematic stream of livelihood, disaster risk reduction and climatic change adaption (DDR/CCA).
According to Shakti Lama, coordinator of Sabal Kavre Programme, there are other three cross cutting themes of the programme. They are gender equity and social inclusion (GESI), social behaviour change and social mobilisation.
Sabal programme has been providing support to the farmers of remote hills on a wide range of productive areas. The main areas of involvement of the programme are livelihood, health and nutrition, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
In the field of agriculture, the Sabal programme is helping the farmers to increase productivity of land by helping them use improved seeds, prepare compost manure and practice post-harvest management with an aim of linking them with a value added chain. They are doing this in close coordination with the competent government agencies.
With the help of Sabal, the people of the project area have been growing vegetables such as tomatoes, legumes and cucumbers. In support of the District Agricultural Office, Sabal is providing training to farmers to make them familiar with improved farm practices like the use of tunnel farming, drip irrigation and integrated pest management. The seed multiplication is another important area in which the programme is imparting training to the farmers. The lead farmers identified by the project are producing improved seed of wheat, maize and paddy to ensure a sustainable source of supply of quality improved seeds.
The Sabal programme has also been supporting the farmers to raise livestock in a more scientific and profitable way. The small farmers of the programme area are provided with improved breed of goats. They are taught to manage cattle sheds and goat pen in addition to helping them create a sustainable source of nutrient fodder by planting improved variety of fodder plants and teaching them make silos.
There are lead farmers who raise animals or cultivate food crops at the same time providing technical assistance to other small scale farmers and the livestock owners. There are agricultural technician (ATs) and agro-vets who regularly visit their fields and provide services to the farmers regarding integrated pest management and protection of animals from possible epidemic such as hand and mouth disease in cattle and PPR in goats.
Together with agriculture, the Sabal programme is also working in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change adaptation focussing in the district impacted by the massive earthquake of 2015. As an adaptation strategy against increasing instances of drought because of anomaly in the rainfall pattern and the vanishing of ground water sources after the great earthquake, Sabal facilitators are helping farmers to harvest rain water by constructing cemented or plastic water tanks so that the reserved water can be used for cattle and irrigation of vegetable farms in dry seasons.
Under the programme, existing disaster management committees (LDMCs) have been strengthened or new ones formed in more vulnerable village municipalities for preparedness and response against disasters. Disaster prepared materials have been provided to LDMCs to raise the people’s preparedness against disasters.
The Sabal programme components have been designed in close coordination with the government agencies. The programme has streamlined its DRA/CCA activities with those of the DDC and the village municipality.
The Sabal programme has also incorporated village saving and lending scheme in its activities. There are VSLAs who help the farmers’ groups to acquire skill in financial transactions through village saving and lending groups. They are encouraged to cultivate a habit of regular saving and needy farmers can get loan to start small businesses of their own. This has taught the farmers of the remote hill villages how to keep account, how to calculate interest rates and think in commercial terms.
The Sabal VSLAs and local resource persons (LRPs) are deeply engaged with the farmers and are helping families, especially women -headed families, to make proper and productive use of remittances sent to them by their family members who are in overseas employment. This is slowly bringing attitudinal change in the rural society in the eastern hills.
Apart from the above main components, the Sabal programme has also taken up other cross-cutting themes. These include gender equality and social inclusion (GESI), social behaviour change and social mobilisation. The GESI component of the programme focuses on gender equality and empowerment of women. It emphasises on raising consciousness level of women to enable them to play key role in the decision making process at home and public affairs.
Sabal has also been making a significant contribution in promoting maternal health and addressing the problem of maternal and child mortality. Through an attractive intervention called ‘thousand day mothers’ which is also included in the government’s health plan, it is contributing to enhance nutritional status of new mothers and their infants.
Under this stream, Sabal has been supporting the families of mothers with a child of up to 2 two years. The Sabal programme is providing incentives to the families of such mothers in the form of improved varieties of chicks and high yield vegetable seeds. This has enhanced the access of new mothers and their infants to nutritional foods and sustainable supply of nutrients.
Another encouraging part of this programme is its commitment to work in collaboration with the government line agencies and partner NGOs (PNGOs) working in this field. This has averted the possibility of duplication and created a space for utilising collective wisdom and material resources.
Still, there are formidable challenges of remoteness of the areas where programme intervention has been made. The programme staffs have to walk for at least two days to reach Singhadevi Village Municipality of Okhaldhunga but this is only an example. Baluwapati Deupur of Kavre and Kapilakot of Sindhuli, which also happen to have programme activities, are equally remote and hazardous. Another sore point about the project appears to be too meagre incentive to VSLA’s, LRP and other regular staff working in the field.
Cliff of adversity
Despite this, the programme has been well received by the community as a catalytic agent of change. The enhanced awareness of the farmers about sustainable farming, increased confidence in profitable livestock raising, high level of disaster preparedness and improved sanitation and nutritional status of rural families are some of the landmark contributions of the programme. There are also slow but sure signs of behavioural transformation in matters of gender equality and social inclusion. This shows that Sabal is helping the people of eastern hill to cut a path of prosperity through the sheer cliff of their adversity.