In the middle of a field in Dang district, midwestern Nepal, stands Ramadewali and gives instructions to the people around her. The field is full of peanut plants, and today marks the beginning of harvesting. The farmers are loosening the soil with different tools and pulling up the plants one by one. After that the peanuts are picked by hand from the roots. This lease farming was started one year ago, with the support of SWAN.
– I have the power and the energy to work hard in the field, but I haven’t had the right tools to realise my ideas, says Ramadewali and sits down on the ground, grabbing the nearest plant and starting to pick the peanuts from it. We have a lot of knowledge about farming, but we haven’t had any land to cultivate, she continues.
It is very expensive to buy land in Nepal – and it is a serious problem. Landlessness is a major cause of poverty in Nepal. For those depending on agriculture as their main source of income it can be tough if you do not own your own piece of land for farming, which is the case for a lot of people here in the southern parts of the country. The Tharu community that are native to this land and historically has owned and used it have systematically been forced to work as something called Kamaiya, a bonded form of labour. This is because they did not have land certificates confirming their ownership of the land, which resulted in the land being bought up by others.
The Tharu community has as a consequence been marginalized in a number of ways, and the system has been upheld by powerful elites. For example, the literacy rate is especially low in these areas due to lack of education, and the Tharus generally have low social status. Many of them also experience great economic insecurity, since it is common for the landowners to take a big majority of the profit. And getting a land certificate is both difficult and expensive.
That is why SWAN is working actively to support these farmers, strengthening their economic rights and their right to land. Ramadewali is a former Kamaiya worker, but she is now part of the Shanti Micro Agriculture Farm, a farming collective supported by SWAN. They receive economical support for leasing land, as an alternative to buying. We have provided them with money for renting land as well as for buying seeds. They also collect and save money together in the group, something which has been important for the members.
– If I have any problems at home and need to lend money I can go directly to the group, instead of going to the bank. That’s good, because I don’t have the capacity to go to the bank myself, says Ramadewali.
She also says that she has learnt to write her own name – before she joined the group she could neither read nor write. Today, she feels that she can speak in front of others and stand up for herself. She feels empowered, she concludes.
We have about twenty similar groups in the area. Every month, our social mobilizers have meetings with the groups to discuss different issues in the village and to provide support for their farming in different ways. For example, they provide training in farming technique and business management. This group started their farm just one year ago. They hope to continue for many years and start growing different types of vegetables.
– If we can continue for a couple of years I think we can create a difference for the entire village. We can grow more vegetables and get better and better results, says Ramadewali confidently.
By: Emma Aler, IM intern.