This article reflects MCC’s work in Nepal before the April 25th earthquake. MCC has had an active presence in Nepal since the 1950s. We have eight local partners and work on projects including agriculture, nutrition, education, health and peacebuilding. We will be supporting some of these same partners with our earthquake response.
In Nepal and elsewhere, MCC and its partners work alongside farmers to address deeper challenges to growing and having enough food — whether that’s a lack of land or resources to put new techniques into place. They help communities see what more they can do together than alone and meet the challenges of malnutrition with local, affordable solutions.
In Bhatigachha, pictured above, many farmers work for daily wages or under sharecropping systems, buying seeds and providing labour, then paying landowners as much as half the proceeds from the harvest. They often end up in debt to landowners, and men in the area regularly leave their families and migrate for months at a time to work low-wage jobs in Indian cities. MCC is partnering with the service arm of Nepal’s Brethren in Christ Church in a pilot project to lease land and train farmers to grow vegetables, which bring in more income than grain crops. Producing vegetables to sell to the nearby city of Biratnagar at a fair price for farmers means families can stay together, and earn enough for daily needs. By the end of the project, ideally farmers will have earned enough to lease or buy a small portion of their own land.
Malnutrition is common in rural Nepal, and the period after children begin eating solid food is especially precarious. In communities where nearly all children are underweight and small, weighing campaigns are a valuable tool to help parents know if their children are getting the nutrients they need. Nutrition volunteers Angela Chepang and Mini Maya Chepang calculate data from a monthly weighing campaign in Dhading District, as Babalal Chepang waits to learn if his two-year-old daughter Supana is within the normal weight range for her age. This food security and nutrition program of Shanti Nepal, a partner that MCC supports through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, also encourages mothers to choose nutrient-dense weaning foods, such as a porridge of legumes and grains, instead of the traditional watery rice.
Tomatoes from this “plastic house,” a simple greenhouse, can earn far more at market than the grain that could be grown on this plot of land. MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, through partner YES-Nepal, are helping farmers such as Ghore Phare in Achham District extend the growing season for vegetables with greenhouses built from materials that can be carried over miles of trail from the nearest road. As Phare earns from his tomato crop, more neighbours become interested in growing vegetables.
Encouraging farmers to work together is a cornerstone of MCC’s agriculture work in Nepal, notes Leah Reesor-Keller of Kitchener, Ont. She and her husband Luke, shown meeting with a farmers’ group in Achham, are MCC’s representatives for Nepal. “All of our food security and sustainable livelihood projects include work with cooperatives, community-based farmers’ organizations or, at the very least, self-help groups,” she says. “Though it is not agriculture, it’s an important part of building sustainability and capacity for local action to improve agriculture and livelihoods.”
Nettles and millet
Read a reflection from Leah Reesor-Keller on the importance of valuing local food — including stinging nettle.
In many projects, local farmers are chosen to test new techniques and share them with friends and neighbours. Sumina Chepang, shown with her mother Khisna Maya Chepang, was selected by the mother’s group in her village of Benighat in Dhading District to be a model farmer. She attends vegetable cultivation training sessions and brings her new knowledge back to share with the group.
Available year-round, stinging nettle grown near homes or gathered in the jungle is a good source of calcium and other nutrients. MCC partners such as Shanti Nepal community health worker Bishnu Maya Chepang encourage people to eat nutrient-dense, locally available sources of nutritious food such as nettle, which is served as a sauce with cornmeal or millet.
Having adequate nutrition is especially important for those living with HIV. Loans, such as the one that allowed Padam Tondon in Argakanchi District to buy day-old chicks, are a critical part of helping people with compromised immune systems earn enough to eat well and care for their health. In addition to small loans for people living with HIV, MCC partner Sakriya Sewa Samaj also provides advocacy, community-based care and peer support groups.