Well, the dust has finally settled and I think I’m well and truly ‘settled’ in Kathmandu…but not for too long. There have been some significant changes in the work that I’m doing with VSO which, once I return from my brief sojourn to the UK over the next three weeks, will see me spending a good deal of my time away from Kathmandu, in the far west of Nepal in the districts of Kailali, Kanchanpur, Baitaidi and Dadeldhura.
Much as I’ve enjoyed my time working in Banepa with Sakriya Plus Nepal, the reality is that there is insufficient work to sustain a volunteer there for the coming year. I have been in discussions with VSO for a couple of months now about possible alternatives….and so it is that I find myself working with Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC), a Nepali NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) “…working for empowering land-poor farmers to claim their land rights since 1995. CSRC has grown into a national movement promoting pro-poor land reform and management as a means to secure the rights of the land-poor”. (Source CSRC web site).
So…here’s a few extracts from the placement contract that has just been jointly drawn up, which gives a rough outline of what I’ll be doing…
1.Understanding the context of land rights within Nepal, and the difficulties and problems experienced by the landless poor.
The volunteer will be expected to become familiar with a breadth of publications and reading materials in relation to land rights within Nepal….
…CSRC currently works in fifty districts within Nepal. The volunteer will work in four of these districts, (Kailali and Kanchanpur in the Terai Region: Baitaidi and Dadeldhura in the Hill Region), and will accompany other CSRC staff on visits to these districts, both as a means of familiarization, but also as a participant in the programme activities.
2. Strengthening the capacity of livelihoods initiatives at a district level
The volunteer will accompany CSRC team members to the Districts and assist in the strengthening of livelihoods initiatives at the local level. The volunteer’s understanding of stakeholders will enable them to contribute to develop a plan and an evaluation of these initiatives. They will also be expected to contribute to the production of notes and concept papers in this area.
The volunteer will also be expected to work with CSRC Kathmandu based staff to ensure a consistency and common understanding at a national level.
3. Document and website review.
In particular, review and proof reading of materials produced for publication in English by CSRC. The volunteer will also support CSRC in placing information on its website
4. Supporting CSRC in the delivery an international workshop in respect of land rights.
CSRC is going to organize an international level workshop on ‘land questions- local to global’ in August 2011. Invitations will be extended to scholars from different countries where land reform has been carried out on behalf of landless and tenant farmers. For this workshop, the volunteer will cooperate in preparing papers and documentation.
To say I’m pleased with how things have turned out is a massive understatement!
I’ve spent the last few days reading up on land rights and related issues at the offices of CSRC…so a few general comments, which will undoubtedly become more specific as my placement continues….
“Categorised as one of the 50 least developed countries, Nepal ranks 138th out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index (UNDP 2006) and falls into the UNDP category of ‘low human development’. Nepal’s citizens have an average life expectancy of 62 years and an annual per capita income of USD 490. Government statistics show that 31.8% of the population is living below the poverty line; non-government studies put this figure above 60%. The degree of poverty varies between communities and geographical areas with some experiencing levels as high as 85%. The Human Development Report (UNDP 2004) states that 29% of rural households do not own any farmland. With an average household size of 5.45 members (2001 census) this equates to over 5.5 million landless people. Land has always been the prime source of socio, economic and political power in Nepal and while it enables a few wealthy landlords to wield considerable influence it also ensures that the landless and near landless are alienated and marginalised from society. Nepal’s institutions have been shaped by these huge inequalities in the distribution of land and those institutions continue the status quo. It is unsurprising that a disproportionately large number of Dalits, ethnic minorities and women belong to the landless and near landless groups of society. Having no land of their own, millions of people are at the mercy of powerful farmers and wealthy landlords; they are forced to sell their labour for negligible wages in a state of bondage or near-bondage. These vulnerable people are generally uneducated and illiterate with no hope of freeing themselves from this exploitation. Landlessness affords no status in the community and disenfranchises millions from their basic human rights. Without the possession of a land certificate people are denied access to basic government services such as banking, electricity, telephone connection and potable water. The landless are further victimised by non-government services, being unable to keep livestock and prevented from accessing community forest land. Millions of people in Nepal are trapped within this vicious cycle of poverty which does not benefit them, their communities or the national economy”. (Source CSRC website)
Oh…and I’m in the process of putting together a photographic exhibition with a Nepali photographer with the working title of “Nepal: Inside & Out”.
Watch this space…