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What women in Nepal can teach the world about growing food

Originally published on the SDG2 Advocacy Hub website.

In mountaineous regions of Nepal, it snows from November to April, making it impossible for farmers to plant crops and vegetables during the winter. During warmer months, many rice and wheat harvests would fail due to improper planting techniques. This was devastating for communities in these remote areas, as availability and access to food largely depends on local production. Without the proper skills and tools, farmers were not able to produce enough to meet people’s needs. Oftentimes, children would die due to hunger.

Good food begins with farmers, and things started to change when the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) began investing in these rural farming communities. The Nepal Agriculture and Food Security Project (AFSP) and Food and Nutrition Security Enhancement Project (FANSEP), financed by GAFSP and implemented by the World Bank, have helped improve the food and nutrition security of thousands of families.

Women are farming and succeeding

Over the past decade or so, farming in Nepal has been undergoing a “feminization” as more men move from rural areas to urban centers in search of better income opportunities. These projects support  farmers, mostly women, by promoting climate-resilient practices through improved extension and research services, as well as disseminating improved inputs like seeds and animal breeds. They also help farmers improve their feeding and care practices, such as the responsible use of antibiotics. Today, vulnerable smallholder farmers are mastering the skills and tools needed to sustainably grow, process, and store nutritious food –including rice, wheat, maize, potato, beans and vegetables— all year long and properly care for and herd their poultry, goats, and cows.

Hastikala Birkatta Magar, a goat farmer from Dashrathpur, says she feels like she is taking over the business from her husband, “I really feel independent. I am capable and will add more goats and run the business.”

Good food is nutritious food. Through awareness-raising campaigns, farmers have also learned the benefits of eating a balanced diet, and families now practice better hygiene, like washing their hands, before feeding their children – all leading to healthier and more economically empowered communities.

“People in the village used to live with plain roti [bread], salt, and chili. But now they have four meals every day,” said Tark Raj Shahi, a technician from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).


Responding to the COVID-19 crisis 

In Nepal, good food is vulnerable to disruption. Frequent natural disasters already affected livelihoods and food security in the country, but the closure of businesses, farming activities, and trade due to COVID-19 have led to more significant job and income losses.

But FANSEP is already responding to this crisis by providing technical and financial assistance to farmers as well as preparing farming communities to face upcoming challenges. For example, a response plan to support food and cash transfers and provide agricultural inputs is already in place. The project continues to distribute seeds for vegetables, rice, and finger millet. Together with the local government, they are raising awareness about the pandemic, its effects on food and health, and also providing small and matching grants to those who need it.

Gearing up to invest more in farmers worldwide

GAFSP investments have had a profound impact on smallholder farmers in Nepal and beyond. To date, GAFSP has financed $1.6 billion in both public and private sector investments in more than 45 countries, benefiting more than 13 million smallholder farmers and their families. But the work does not stop there. On October 13, GAFSP is gearing up to launch its five-year replenishment period to invest another $1.5 billion in the most vulnerable communities and change lives across the world.

This thought-leadership piece was penned as a contribution to the Good Food For All series. Good food begins with farmers, those working on the frontlines of our food systems and climate crisis, often under difficult circumstances. Good food powers people and economies, making progress possible.
 

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