Improving the Food Security, Incomes and Nutrition of Women-Led Families in Central Nepal
Groundswell International and our partner on the ground in Nepal, the Baudh Bahunipati Project Pariwar (BBP-Pariwar), have been able to work with women from the Dalit caste living in the remote areas of the Kavre, Ramechhap, and Sindhupalchowk districts of Central Nepal thanks to a grant provided by the Hapke Family Foundation and other support.
Our Work in Nepal
Our work supports some of the most marginalized women in Nepal. The situation in rural Nepal is especially difficult for women from the Dalit caste due to centuries of culturally instilled gender inequality and discrimination. These women farmers have limited access to education and health services and cannot obtain credit to invest in productive enterprises that would improve their families’ food security, incomes, nutrition, and overall well-being. This reinforces their marginalization and inequality, and turns their lives into a seemingly hopeless downward spiral.
The pandemic has led to more isolation and marginalization, and deeply impacted their ability to meet basic needs. The program we have developed is needed now more than ever.
To counter this disempowering reality, we foster a constructive environment in which women may analyze their situation, identify existing problems, examine the various alternatives to overcome these problems, and then choose, plan, and implement the best solutions. This approach empowers women to become the protagonists of their own development long after the program ends. Moreover, by training women in ecological agriculture techniques and giving them access to capital and livestock, we help them to achieve greater control over the
productivity of their farms, develop new ways to earn much-needed income, and improve their families’ nutrition.
Results: Year 1
Over the past 18 months, our Nepal program overcame the challenges brought on by the pandemic to achieve incredible results. We attribute this to the resilience of the women we support and to the strong foundation of trust and forward momentum that Groundswell and BBP Pariwar have established with the women’s groups over many years of close collaboration.
Our monitoring and evaluation system follows the calendar year. Below we present the cumulative results (since we launched our current 5-year program plan) we have achieved through June 30, 2021, along with an analysis of where this progress puts the Nepal program relative to the targets we set for the year:
- Established new savings and credit (S&C) groups and strengthened existing groups to improve women’s access to capital for productive enterprises and other priority needs. Though these groups are formed initially to improve women’s access to capital, they become vehicles to improve their overall wellbeing. In a very short time, S&C groups develop strong leadership, establish internal rules and regulations, and build considerable capacity for collective action beyond mobilizing and managing funds. They also allow for very efficient training on agroecology and livestock management, as well as learning and support between members. Creating strong local groups that can work together to achieve common goals is a fundamental step toward the Nepal program’s purpose of empowering women to lead the development of their families and communities. Women’s groups suspended meetings for several months, and when they began to meet again, they implemented precautions to keep their members safe. As of June 30, 2021, we are working with 30 S&C groups with 674 members. Eight new groups have been created so far in 2021. Collectively, all 30 S&C groups have accumulated $17,334 worth of savings. We are pleased to report that we have already surpassed our 2021 targets of 27 S&C groups and 625 members.
- Taught ecological farming and small animal husbandry techniques to women farmers to ensure they can produce abundant supplies of nutritious food, earn more income, and make their farms more fertile and resilient. So far in 2021, 29 women have joined the 569 women already participating in the agroecology training to bring our total so far is 2021 to 598 women. This increase through Q2 brings our total to about 96% of our 2021 cumulative target. Additionally, we have already achieved 100% of our target of organizing 6 farmer-to-farmer exchange visits on relevant ecological agriculture concepts and techniques. Most importantly, the improved farming practices these women are learning will result in a direct impact on increased food security, which we will measure at the end of the year.
- Purchased and distributed goats to members of the S&C groups and facilitated the distribution of offspring from goats provided by Groundswell in previous years. Between 2018 and 2020, BBP Pariwar staff and paravets distributed goats and provided training on small livestock management to 368 women, enabling them to incorporate small livestock into their farm production systems. So far in 2021, 33 more women have been trained, bringing the cumulative total to 401 women, or almost 95% of the cumulative total we set for 2021. This benefits family nutrition through the increased availability of animal-based protein and also helps address the steady decline in soil fertility, which like access to capital is a key constraint to food security and incomes.
- Provided intensive support to help women orient some of their production to local markets, through training and appropriate technologies, such as low tunnels and on-farm water harvesting with ponds and tanks to extend the growing season, provide pest and disease protection, reduce water consumption and mitigate climate variability. We organized fewer workshops and cross-visits than normal because of the pandemic, but staff still provided accompaniment to ensure women entrepreneurs developed the knowledge and skills they need to add value to products and to successfully run their small enterprises. So far in 2021, 4 women have successfully created a small business with our support. We set a modest goal of 6 women for 2021 because of the constraints of the pandemic. Nevertheless, we have achieved nearly 94% of our cumulative target of 33 women business owners.
- In January 2021, Groundswell and BBP Pariwar began piloting a new strategy, called a Rotating Buffalo Fund, which has the potential to increase the incomes of participating households by as much as $900/year. This is more than double the income of many of these farm households, which currently survive on less than $2/day. In 2020, we researched and successfully experimented with making one-time, larger investments in select households through a Rotating Buffalo Fund, and this year are implementing a full-scale pilot to validate this approach. The key elements of this strategy are outlined below:
- No-interest loan: Participating households receive no-interest loans for the value of a milking buffalo. The loan term is 2 years, which is the time necessary for milk sales to repay the loan.
- Livestock insurance: Each buffalo is insured against loss. The program pays half of the insurance in the form of a grant, and the participating households pay the other half. This guarantees they are fully bought into the survival of the buffaloes.
- Nutrition: 10% of the milk from each buffalo is allotted for household consumption, which experience has shown is enough to satisfy the families’ demand for milk. Buffalo milk has a dramatic positive impact on household nutrition, especially children.
- Proceeds of milk sales: 90% of the milk is sold to a milk cooperative, which records the volume. The cooperative distributes 30% of the proceeds to the buffalo owners and 70% to the Rotating Buffalo Fund until the original low amount is paid back.
- Repayment: The milk sales typically allow the family to repay the no-interest loan after just two years. Once a loan is paid off, 100% of the profit goes to the family. o Reinvestment: Once the Rotating Buffalo Fund has been capitalized enough from loan payments, another buffalo is purchased, and the program is expanded to a new household.
The Impact of COVID-19 in Nepal
In April and May 2021, the surge in the COVID-19 pandemic that was impacting India spilled into Nepal, resulting in a catastrophic spike in COVID- related deaths and illness. The affected households were cut off from markets and many family members were sickened by the virus.
The Hapke Family Foundation and other funders generously responded to our emergency call for support to address the immediate needs of those who were most affected. We used this money to buy and distribute food and sanitation supplies, including rice, lentils, cooking oil, salt, soap, and clean towels. In all, 565 households (2,926 individuals) belonging to 22 S&C groups received emergency support. The families that received support are detailed in the table below. Groundswell and BBP Pariwar will use any remaining funds to distribute goats to the most affected families.
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted our ability to implement activities because both staff and participants had to maintain strict social distancing precautions to slow the spread of the disease. This was especially limiting in the initial stages of the pandemic. However, as time went on, we adapted to the new reality and developed protocols that allowed us to safely implement many program activities. Despite the pandemic, we are well on our way to achieving most of the targets we set for 2021.
The difficulties of the last year reaffirmed that organized groups are more resilient than individual households. This lesson is not new, yet it is important. Organized groups enjoy much greater success in gaining support from government agencies and can provide mutual aid during difficult times. The S&C groups that the Foundation has helped us to create were able to effectively appeal to the Nepalese government agencies to acquire support to help them through the pandemic. They also helped each other when one household could not meet its needs. Individual households are not able to obtain this sort of support from the government, and they find it difficult to weather shocks of all kinds all on their own.
Continuing Our Work
With the Hapke Family Foundation grant, Groundswell and BBP Pariwar will continue working with current households, expand our support to new villages and households, and cultivate a working relationship with a second Nepalese grassroots organization.