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In Nepal, Indigenous women generate green jobs through lime cultivation
Nicole Harris, with inputs from Asmita Panday and Bharati Pathak
02 .03. 2022  
4 minutes read
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Starting in June, peaking through August and winding down by September, the monsoon season brings rain, humidity, and an increase in temperatures across most of Nepal. In the valleys, views of the Himalayan mountains are often obscured by clouds, temperatures get uncomfortably high, and humidity levels rarely dip below 100%.

Last year, these cyclical monsoon rains were accompanied by a deadly second wave of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with torrential rains, dilapidated roads, and mudslides piling on country-wide lockdowns and medical emergencies.

In May, Nepal’s COVID-19 positivity rate was 46.7% – the highest in the world – even though testing rates remained abysmally low and likely contributed to severe underreporting, particularly in rural and forested areas home to the country’s most vulnerable local and Indigenous communities.

Despite these challenges, Nepal’s Indigenous women – known for their role in the country’s achievements in community forestry – found ways to adapt and support their communities while adhering to pandemic safety guidelines, demonstrating their inspiring resilience once again.

Generating green jobs amidst economic recovery

In Nawalpur district, 197 km southwest of Kathmandu, women from the Tharu and Kumal tribes in Madyavindu Municipality worked together throughout the 2021 monsoon season planting lime trees on over 25 hectares of government and privately-owned farmland, restoring degraded land through horticulture during a province-wide lockdown.

While respecting safety and social distancing guidelines, the women cultivated and cared for the mature lime trees to ensure a productive harvesting season while planting new seedlings – activities previously impeded by their time spent away from home and the community before the pandemic.

“We were not able to sell our products due to the lockdown, but the increase in lime production has allowed us to store the limes for a longer duration,” said Nira Tharu, one of the women involved in caring for the lime trees.

 

This act of safely planting and cultivating lime trees while adhering to lockdown restrictions has not just restored degraded farmland, but also contributed to the improvement of the women’s livelihood by generating more green jobs in the community. In fact, the women are now expanding their enterprise to include pickle production, in hopes of generating more income.

Their traditional knowledge and socio-economic success have drawn attention from several government representatives and the Jagaran Community Development Center, a local organization working in the area, and have received support in the form of grants and financial subsidies to scale up their lime and pickle production.

“The lime cultivation has strengthened us women: emotionally, mentally, and financially admidst the pandemic,” said Nanda Kumari Mahato.

 

In a year marked with uncertainty, tragedy, and a monsoon season that lasted late into the season, the women of the Tharu and Kumal tribes in Madyavindu Municipality are just one example of Indigenous women adapting to new circumstances and thriving.

We are grateful to FECOFUN’s Bharati Pathak and Asmita Panday for providing the resources for this story.

Indigenous women and community leaders demonstrate the power of community forestry during COVID-19 lockdowns in Nepal. (Source: FECOFUN)

Women leaders protect their forests and communities

This is not the first time that Nepal’s Indigenous and local community women have shown the power and resilience of community forestry and farming.

In 2016, forests made up nearly 45% of Nepal’s total area. It is often cited as a success story in forestry and conservation circles, a paragon of halting deforestation and boosting livelihoods by handing the reins of forest management back to Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Today, more than a quarter of Nepal’s forests are managed by communities, many of them led by women.

Since being established in 1995, the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) has since grown into a national social movement. It represents 8.5 million people and more than 19,000 community forestry user groups. In recent years, it has also emerged as a major champion of women’s leadership with 50% of its executive leadership held by women, a formal stipulation that was added to FECOFUN’s constitution in 2010.

Emergency COVID-19 response and the Together for Nepal Initiative

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, RRI Partner FECOFUN worked in collaboration with the Municipal Association of Nepal (MuAN), the National Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), the Center of Indigenous Peoples’ Research and Development (CIPRED), and the Green Foundation Nepal (GFN), to launch a new joint initiative called Together for Nepal. By combining their extensive collective capacities, they worked with provincial and municipal governments to support country-wide COVID-19 relief efforts.

Together for Nepal quickly mobilized to distribute health equipment (oxygen cylinders, concentrators, masks, oximeters), food, and sanitation supplies (soaps, medicinal herbs) to local communities. RRI supported FECOFUN and Together for Nepal’s efforts through its COVID-19 relief funds and Global Giving fundraising campaign.

They also conducted a wide range of awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns at the national, provincial, and local levels with extensive support from local governments to help safeguard the livelihoods of the country’s Indigenous, local, and forest-dwelling communities.

Working alongside governments and local communities, FECOFUN and Together for Nepal are building the foundation needed to reduce deforestation, alleviate poverty for its most vulnerable communities, and empower women leaders like Nira and Nanda even after COVID-19 becomes a part of history.

For more information on the Together for Nepal Initiative, please contact Bharati Pathak.

 

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