Milipa Thapa, RAP3 CONNECT Enterprise Graduate
The experiences I accumulated at a place called Taranga of Surkhet District are embedded deep in my heart.
We were in Taranga, with a team from Harvard Kennedy School’s Evidence for Policy Design, to survey ginger farmers. The journey through the woods of Bardiya National Park towards Taranga village was not that easy. Looking at fresh paw prints in the mud we would walk silently in hope of sneaking a peak of a tiger. Reminiscing on hearing elephants trumpet still sends a chill thrill through my spine.
After 4 hours walking through the jungle we started a tough, 5 hour uphill climb. We Nepalese were accustomed to walk on such trails but the unnatural moves of our Harvard teammates had us alert, ready to catch them if they lost their balance. Heavy rainfall added to our misery and made our journey even more difficult. Water streamed through the small trails, making them slippery and reducing the grip of our shoes on the mud. Finally, we neared our destination; catching sight of some portion of the house where we were to stay during our visit. As we all sighed with relief, CONNECT team member Rajendra slipped badly through the bushes; he wearily stood back up and mumbled sadly “what a fate to walk the whole way safe and finally to fall near our destination”. Luckily, he wasn’t injured.
The long day, scorching heat and curvy trails had drained us all. But, the warm and sweet welcome of the landlord helped us forget our exhaustion and the tiresome journey, to some extent.
Despite the feeling of drowsiness, I woke up the next morning ready to embrace my responsibility without any hesitation. It was my first time professionally interviewing programme beneficiaries and I had a little nervousness and jumpiness but I found resolve by making myself believe - mistakes are milestones upon which to improve.
We walked towards the village to meet farmers; I could see new excitement on the faces of our Harvard colleagues to finally have the opportunity to meet local peopl. We interviewed several farmers in the village. At times it was difficult to understand some of the words and language spoken by farmers, but with colleagues there to help and encourage me it went well. The survey confirmed our understanding that ginger farming is the main source of income for most of the farmers. Prior to their agreement with RAP3 CONNECT’s partner Organic Mountain Flavor (OMF) farmers used to sell ginger to local traders. Usually, two to three traders visited these farmers every year, but last year no traders came. Since signing an agreement with OMF the villagers have not sold their ginger to other traders. They seemed happy to have OMF’s satellite processing facility in their village and moreover, they were happy that with the arrival of the processing facility they no longer have to carry ginger to the road head to sell it.
When we introduced ourselves as representatives of RAP3 CONNECT, the farmers immediately identified RAP as the organisation who builds roads. When we confirmed we were part of the same programme, they asked with hopeful eyes if we were to build roads in their village as well. I felt a pinch in my heart. It was not an easy life for the people of Taranga village; the nearest market required almost a day long walk along the uphill and downhill trails of Bardiya National Park .
Our work done in Taranga village, it was time to depart. Though our stay was short, fresh air, water and people’s warm love and respect had stolen our heart. With heavy heart, I parted from the villagers making promise to grab any opportunity to visit this place again. We had to face heavier rainfall on our way back so when we safely reached Surkhet bazar our happiness was boundless. Before we left for Kathmandu, the Harvard team threw a small party for us. It is a fun memory. Though we had met only a few days earlier, we felt as if we had known each other for years. With the promise of meeting again, we went our separate ways.
Later in the year, to gather further information I travelled with colleagues to Sahajpur, Doti to survey more ginger farmers. It was really a great pleasure to work with Asmita and Ashesh on their first field visit with CONNECT. I saw they were very excited to meet our field team and see our partner OMF’s office in Sahajpur.
The survey took us to 10 wards around the Sahajpur corridor meeting both ginger farmers who have agreements to sell to OMF and those farmers that do not. The trails to reach these wards were similarly difficult to those of Taranga; we even learnt that people had died falling from the trail. The way Ashesh was climbing downhill, like a toddler crawling on the floor, made everybody laugh whereas Asmita was praised for her smooth and confident movement in those rough hills. As the monsoon was over, our journey wasn’t hampered by the heavy rains that made our time in Taranga so difficult but there is no road access to these villages either and people’s lives are hard.
Like in Taranga, ginger farming is the main income generating source for most farmers in Sahajpur. The farmers discussed with us the shortage of buyers and low prices they sometimes face; though the farmers do not know who will buy ginger next year, they were still planting and harvesting ginger because it is the only way for them to earn money.
OMF has only recently established a presence in Sahajpur and, despite having agreements in place, farmers trust in OMF is not yet embedded. This is different from Taranga, where OMF has been in operation longer and established a satellite processing facility.
Undertaking these surveys in Taranga and Sahajpur and working with a team from Harvard was really a great experience. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to meet ginger farmers in both places. I would not have the same understanding of ground realities if I stayed in Kathmandu only reading reports of others’ experiences in the field. It has further developed my understanding of CONNECT's intervention co-investing with OMF to establish organic ginger processing facilities in Sahajpur. Our intervention is helping OMF to strengthen their business which will, in turn benefit their downstream suppliers.
I am happy to have learnt about ginger and ginger farmers but I am equally sad knowing the hardships they face. I hope that in the coming days farmers’ prospects and incomes will improve.