Our minibus suddenly ground to a halt behind a long line of trucks and buses. Despite the pouring rain it was still incredibly hot, and the absence of fresh air rushing in through the window meant that we now all looked around at our fellow passengers in sweaty frustration. After twenty minutes it became clear that we were not going to be moving anytime soon, so we disembarked to grab some fresh air.
As we walked towards the front of the line of vehicles, a man approached us and told us that our driver had charged him with looking after us. Reaching the first vehicle, we were finally able to see what was delaying our travel. A huge bridge lay in front of us in various stages of (dis)repair. Our new friend explained that the Maoists had blown up this bridge over 5 years ago, and that its repair remained unfinished. (To my mind, 5 years is a long time for a bridge of such critical importance on the only highway linking the east and west of the country to remain in such a state, and I wonder if it’s a lack of resources, poor governance, or some other factor that allows this situation to continue)
The only way around this bridge was a long detour along a dirt (now mud under the torrent of rain) track. Traffic proceeded in one direction at a time as buses and trucks attempted to navigate its winding, and visibly treacherous, path. A bulldozer was there to smooth out the mud, and as this proved to be insufficient, eventually served to tow vehicles one by one to the other side. After several hours ticked by, it became clear that this was going to be a long, long process.
Tiring of watching the drama unfold, we decided to walk several kilometers down the road to wait for our bus at a tea stand. Along the way we chatted with our new friend and caretaker and learned that he was a naturalist who was traveling to Nepalganj to give a presentation on biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. He was eager to share his knowledge with us, and every so often would point out the various birds soaring in the skies above us. As we learned, Nepal is rich in biodiversity, with over 10% of the world’s bird species making their home here.
After trudging along the remote road for about an hour, the signs of human habitation were a welcome sight. As we sat sipping hard earned cups of delicious chiya (Nepali tea) we learned more about how Nepal’s biodiversity is being threatened, and indigenous knowledge is being lost.
Apparently the chickens pecking around our feet were unique to that region. Thus they were better adapted to the terrain, and less likely to fall sick to local bacteria and diseases. The people there (we never learned exactly which group they belonged to) plant over 10 different crops at once, ensuring that the soil is not robbed of vital nutrients and remains sustainable for agricultural activity. Yet this locally specific knowledge is being lost due to the perception that such practices are backwards or “primitive.”
Increasingly, unsustainable industrial monoculture agriculture is the norm, and people are facing escalating pressure to purchase seeds (often genetically modified) from international agricultural businesses. It is ironic that this specialized traditional knowledge is being lost and that the holders of such knowledge are actually paying to replace it with a far inferior good. Moreover these corporations often pillage this knowledge, patent it, and then sell it back to other communities. Biopiracy is an increasingly global issue, and even Nepal fails to remain immune from its effects. As our naturalist friend pointed out, with global warming putting an increasing strain on the world’s resources, we must act to protect this knowledge, and therefore local communities, before it is too late.
Posted By Jeff Yarborough
Posted Jun 22nd, 2007