I had an amazing opportunity to join my friends from NESPEC as they traveled for a few days to the village of Siddipur, a relatively remote village situated at the base of the Himalayan foothills. The purpose of the trip was for NESPEC’s president Arjun, Project Coordinator Ajaya, and Social Mobilizers Regana and Sundar to do some initial work for a new project on Food Security and Land Rights they are implementing through a partnership with ActionAid.
The village of Siddipur, contains 603 households, is centered around a small strip of shops called the “market,” and sparsely fans out from there. The people we encountered were warm, welcoming, and reacted very fondly to the delegation from NESPEC who had implemented a “safe-drinking water” program there several years before and is one of the few NGOs or governmental organizations that has made an effort to reach out to the isolated community. In addition to their general gratitude for the commitment of the members of NESPEC, the people of Siddipur exemplified the hospitality that Nepalis are famous for.
Distance-wise Siddipur is not that far from the district headquarter in Gaighat, but due to the challenges of travel and communication it is quite isolated. Though the distance is only 30 miles by road, the fastest time by bus is 5 hours to the nearest town followed by an hour long walk over gravel pits and through a river. If you are willing to travel off road on a motorcycle you can make it in 3 hours, but you have to cross a major tributary without the aid of a bridge. Once in Siddipur, there is no electricity and phone contact is through a combination mobile and short-wave system dish systems. As a result of these difficulties, there are few development projects implemented in Siddipur by governmental offices or NGOs. It is for this reason that NESPEC chose the village as one of the sites for their new program.
Here’s how you cross a river on a motorcycle without a bridge
The right to own land is a very fundamental issue in Nepal, and intimately connected with food security as the majority of Nepal’s population survives on subsistence agriculture. Farmers grow products that are diverse as possible, eating whatever is in season, and selling the excess to make money to pay for other household essentials. As a result of the subsistence way of life there is still an established barter system in parts of Nepal and it is not uncommon for people outside of the major cities to pay for services they have received with produce, grains, or small animals.
If one does not own land on which to produce, the options are to “lease” land to cultivate or to work as a day laborer on another’s land (usually getting paid with a percentage of the crop produced as opposed to cash). Such arrangements are feudal-like in nature and have enormous potential for mostly better educated and higher caste land owners to take advantage of poorer, less educated, and often lower caste workers.
Of the landless farmers Buttia are the best off, having a lease arrangement that they cultivate the land as they like and later pay 50% of the crop to the land owner. Haliya, are mere laborers who can be paid in crops or in rupees, as decided as the landlord and often have arrangements that can be as skewed by as much as 95% for the landlord and only 5% for the farmer. As such, the poor, lower caste, and indigenous landless farmers must work at least twice as hard as landowners (in the best scenario) to feed their families, let alone generate income from the excess they may produce. Thus, in working to alleviate the poverty pervading Nepal it is essential to address the issue of land rights for the ultra poor.
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Nov 20th, 2014