Despite being away from Nepal for some two years now, I still maintain links with CSRC, the land rights organisation that I worked with whilst living there. I feel enormously privileged to be asked to contribute to the editing process for their last two annual reports and most recently to their next strategic plan. Not only does it continue to give me a window on the world that they are engaged in, but it gives me an opportunity to share it once again through this blog.
“In Nepal land is a major productive asset and a traditional source of power, prestige and social status. Historically, land was seized from indigenous communities and distributed to people close to the rulers in return for services rendered. Ultimately, this group of people became feudal landlords. The poor and the powerless had little choice but to work for these landlords in various tenure arrangements. The situation was further aggravated by the practice of private money lending with exorbitant interest rates making it extremely difficult for poor farmers to meet their debt obligations. Consequently, defaulted interest was capitalized into the original loan amount compounding the interest rate and forcing the families of poor farmers… into bonded labour”.
“…The country’s rural social institutions, bureaucracy and legal system all supported this feudalism as poor farmers, who were a majority of the population, did not have a voice in governance. …Exclusion from access to productive assets, notably land, was one of the primary reasons which perpetuated poverty and restricted a large section of the population (from realising) their full potential as citizens”.
[Source: CSRC Strategic Plan. 2014-2018]
However, the securing of land rights is just the beginning of the journey. The roots of poverty, injustice, exploitation and oppression lie in the unequal distribution of land. Land rights alone won’t automatically lead to an amelioration of these circumstances, although activism does provide tangible outcomes such as the number of land certificates obtained, the number of preventions from evictions, and the amount of resources generated, (usually measured in terms of the weight of rice or vegetables collectively farmed, or actual money contributed to the movement) by those who are (or were) themselves landless. I’ve described the process more thoroughly elsewhere.
The fact is that throughout much of rural Nepal many communities survive primarily through subsistence agriculture, with productivity levels remaining low as a result of limited access to new technologies and resources and since the 1990s Nepal has been reliant on imported food to feed its growing population. [Source: ‘Improving Food Security for Vulnerable Communities in Nepal’, Oxfam case study, June 2011].
Imported food is more expensive than food produced locally, because of transport costs. Households in some areas of Nepal cannot rely on food production alone. In these regions, the majority of families have at least one male family member who migrates for work to support the family income. They may be away for as much as 11 months per year. Whilst they are away, women and children struggle to cope by eating less, consuming their stocks of seeds, selling livestock and other assets, undertaking wage labour, borrowing from moneylenders, buying on credit with traders and incurring debt.
And so to food security….
A sustainable livelihoods approach offers a way of thinking about the objectives, scope and priorities for development. It places people and their priorities at the centre of development. It focuses poverty reduction interventions on empowering the poor to build on their own opportunities, supporting their access to assets, and developing an enabling policy and institutional environment. There’s plenty of documentation ‘out there’ which explains the concept in far greater detail than I have space for here. The UK Government/DFID documentation is as good a starting point as any. (Click here).
So, at a micro level, a few indicators of how it works, or could work in practice. Whilst in the far west I visited Masurya which has a small area of land given over to ‘community’ farming. The village was given seed by the local Village Development Council, and so there is a collective input into the process of growing it. The scale is insufficient to generate a substantial amount of income and/or produce but it does illustrate a principle and leads on to questions of what could be developed on a slightly larger scale. Does the collective growing of some crops ensure greater food security? Does this process suggest that further income could be generated by growing things that could be sold at the local markets? Are there high value cash items that could be produced for sale further afield? ( I saw evidence of beekeeping here, and honey certainly fits the bill as a high value, reasonably non-perishable product that could be sold further afield).
Food for thought….