Print Edition - 2015-05-23  |  On Saturday

Volunteer farmhands needed

  • Post-quake, the rural populace does not have enough food stocks and is reeling under deaths and injuries. It is high time the government came up with plans for providing them with volunteer farmhands
- Roshan Sedhai
Volunteer farmhands needed

May 22, 2015-

The historic village of Dharmasthali, which lies three miles northwest of Balaju, lies devastated. The Great Earthquake has almost entirely ruined the hilltop settlement, along with its main bazaar area. Some 200 houses that once stood on a picturesque hill now lie in ruins. A villager said that 15 dead bodies, mostly of women and children, have been recovered from the debris so far, while the search continues for the few missing ones.

Some aid did reach the village post-quake, even if the amounts were scanty and arrived late. It took three weeks for relief to reach some of the villagers there, and all they got were a small package of rice, a blanket, a mosquito net and a few other things.  Kancha Maharjan, a Dharmasthali resident, was waiting anxiously in queue with his fellow villagers in a chautara to receive relief when the Post reached the village earlier this week. “It’s still better than not having anything,” said Maharjan, looking at the measly amount of essentials that his fellow villagers were receiving. Maharjan knew that he and his extended family members could not survive on such amounts of aid forever. His family members have already resumed farm work—forgetting everything that happened recently as it were a bad dream—to avoid future hunger. Farming still remains the primary source of livelihood for the people of Dharmasthali, as a majority of households belong to the Jyapu community, a  Newar farming community primarily residing in the Valley. But many other families in the neighbourhood look unprepared to resume farming, as they are yet to recover from the loss of their loved ones, or are busy nursing those who sustained injuries during the quake. And with less than a week left for the monsoon to start, thousands of families affected by the earthquake across the country may not be able to resume work in the fields like those in Dharmasthali.

If this scenario were to play out, then thousands throughout the country will remain dependent on relief aid throughout the year. In other words, the government, aid agencies and volunteers will have to take care of the affected families till the next harvest and make sure that they don’t perish of hunger.

But there is a way to avert this disaster, or at least minimise it. And no one but an army of young and willing volunteers can achieve it—by becoming farmhands and participating in the ongoing seasonal harvest as well the paddy plantation, which will start in a few weeks’ time.

Providing free agricultural labour to the needy families right now would not only  help them stand on their own feet, but also save the government, aid agencies and volunteers from taking care of their future necessities. To make this more effective, the government and the aid agencies could further assist the affected families by providing them free seeds and chemical fertilisers. In hilly areas, which is also where all the earthquake-affected districts lie, it is human labour that is primarily used in farming, as machines hardly have any presence in these places.  

“Providing the farming communities with volunteer farmhands at the moment would make a big difference in their lives because it would make them less dependent on others,” says Ganesh Gurung, an expert on labour and migration. Agriculture is the lifeline of the Nepali economy: 66 percent of the country’s total population is engaged in it, and agriculture constitutes about 34.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, according to the Economic Survey 2069/70.

Experts further stress that there would be no shortage of volunteers who should be willing to offer labour-help to the affected families if the government were to take the initiative. Estimates show that around 50,000 youth are volunteering in  relief-distribution operations throughout the country on their own and on behalf of various NGOs and INGOs. All that the government needs to do is to tap these young volunteers and redirect their attention to donating labour.

As it is, the government already has plans to mobilise around 100,000 young volunteers for reconstruction work in the next few months. It plans to deploy them in the thousands to each affected district. But the government is not thinking beyond reconstruction for now.

“Although getting the agricultural sector back on track is part of the government’s overall plans and policies, no separate policy for post-quake agriculture management exists, “ says Laxmi Dhakal, spokesperson of the Ministry of Home Affairs. But going by the latest data brought out by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoAD) on the impact of the quake on the farming sector, assigning volunteers to the affected districts seems to be a wise option. The MoAD has said that food stocks worth roughly around Rs 10.11 billion have been lost due to the earthquake in the 14 most-affected districts. “With food stocks buried under the rubble, the large number of dead and injured family members and lack of substantial aid, it would be a gross mistake to assume that these affected people can fend for themselves in the coming months,” says Gurung.

 

Published: 23-05-2015 09:14

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