Off to work

Of course, the main reason I am here is to go to work – so off to work I go from Sunday to Friday each week (yes, that’s six days per week).  To get to work – I need to travel from the northeastern side of the city of Kathmandu to the central region of the adjacent city of Patan.  In the morning I use a “tuk tuk” or “tempo” (Photo 1) – where I typically ride along with 8-12 others for 40-45 minutes – and all for the modest price of approx. 25 cents.  The tuk tuk is an interesting vehicle – its main merit is that it is 100% electrically powered by a series of 12 car-sized batteries – and therefore makes an enormous contribution to reduced pollution in the city.  On the other hand – “part of me” gets the impression that they might also benefit from some shock absorbers!  

I work at the National Agriculture Cooperative Central Federation Limited (NACCFL) (Photo 2) which is the  umbrella organization of the Small Farmers Agro Cooperative Limited (SFACL).  “Small farmers” in this context refers to farmers with very small landholdings (rented or owned) of typically 0.5 acre in size, and with annual income below the poverty threshold.  Various definitions of this poverty threshold exist but – in round numbers – this would be less than $0.75 per day income.  Humbling indeed. 

Most of these cooperatives are located in villages well outside of Kathmandu – and travel to visit them is apparently slow – mostly due to poor roads and high traffic.  Many of the villages are in the southern terai (grassland) regions – which are semi-tropical to tropical – and where much of the better agricultural land is located (about 6 hours drive from Kathmandu).    

The SFACL is a truly cooperative organization that is fully owned and managed by the local community.  Within each village – 3 to 14 families comprise an individual cooperative – and these are then organized into larger regional and district groups – with members from each cooperative responsible for managing the larger groups.  In 2010, the collective membership includes more than 200,000 members.  The NACCFL and SFACL provide a range of financial and nonfinancial services for its members – ranging from microfinance loans to plant and livestock health programs.   For example – two other Canadian volunteers here include Amy – who is training people in statistical software for a microfinance agency – and Claire – who is a veterinarian helping with animal herd health. 

For the first few days I have mainly been involved with meeting everyone,  discussions and planning on what and how to proceed during my short time here – and a lot of reading on the NACCFL and SFACL, crops and crop problems that occur here, previous projects and initiatives that have already been completed, etc.  Nepal clearly has an established and active plant health program already but are very understaffed – and small farmers tend to be underserviced.  

Apparently, we will be heading out to the villages later this week for some farm visits and discussions…

At the end of each day – I take a bus home (Photo 3).

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