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food for all

The lifesaving power of agriculture

After the earthquake that devastated the country last year, life in remote hills of Nepal confirms the role of agriculture: a shield against post-disaster food insecurity. The areas most affected by series of earthquakes in Nepal in 2015 are some of the remotest parts of the world with less to no road access; even air transportation in those areas is perilous due to high altitude and bad weather. Relief and rescue works in such areas are fiendishly difficult and in most of those places, reconstruction works has not been started yet. In fact, more than one year after the earthquake, thousands and thousands of the earthquake victims in inaccessible hills are still living in temporary shelters made up of tarpaulin and iron sheet, and a large amount of humanitarian aids, including food supplies, are rotting in warehouses in the cities.

Subsistence crisis
The earthquake victims endured hot summer, wet monsoon, and chilling cold living in temporary shelters. Most of the infrastructures and services provided by government such as electricity, education, drinking water are disrupted and there still isn’t strong presence of the State and any humanitarian agency. The grief of earthquake victims in high altitude is partly due to the geological condition of Nepal and partly due to socio-political turbulence in the country. However, as far as food supply is concerned the condition of earthquake victims isn’t as miserable as we may assume it to be. Especially in places where agriculture is a dominant occupation, people are eating well and eating healthy regardless of hundreds of tonnes of food aid being wasted. In fact, outsiders visiting some of these far-flung villages are usually astonished by the unexpectedly good diet of the people living there. Most of the visitors initially remain sceptical about sufficient availability of good quality food in the outlying villages isolated by shaky mountains, but to their surprise, the host families serve what can be called as high-standard Nepalese food; rice, multiple curries, pulses, yoghourt, and ghee—a variation of butter and one of the most expensive dairy products in Nepal.

Back to the fields
Despite the traumatic experience of devastating earthquakes followed by months-long series of aftershocks and then having to live in minimal survival conditions, people in remote hills are still actively involved in agriculture and producing food for themselves and for others. The fact that Nepalese earthquake victims’ persistence in producing their own food has helped them to live in hostile post-quake conditions is indeed inspiring. The role of agriculture in improving the survival conditions of earthquake victims in Nepal is a strong reminder of how crucial food is in our lives. These farmers living in earthquake-hit remote hills are not only able to grow food for themselves but also for thousands of people such as photographers, documentary filmmakers, journalists, relief workers (although comparatively scant), who visit there regularly.
As soon as these people got over the harrowing experience of earthquake, they went back to getting their hands dirty in the fields. In Papsa, Barpak (epicentral region of April 25, 2015, 7.8M earthquake), and many other remote, earthquake-suffered hills, people harvested their crops last winter and are ready for yet another cultivation season although they’re still living under leaking ceilings. What’s more interesting is that farming in these rugged hills is inherently difficult. Traditional, labour intensive farming practice is still predominant in these areas with no significant presence of advanced agricultural technologies. The major crops cultivated are millet, paddy, barley, and seasonal vegetables which are mostly carried out through manual labour. Nonetheless, these people didn’t wait for external aid to come and instead took a step forward and helped themselves, which is something we all can learn from.
Farming is one of the most important activities mankind is involved in and these earthquake victims have shown a great deal of sincerity towards it. So, although shelter and relief works are the urgent requirements of earthquake victims, in the long run, it’s rational to provide these people with new ideas and technologies to enhance their agricultural practices so that they can thrive on this noble occupation.

Shishant Banjara (BCFN Alumni)
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