How the landscape has changed over the last few weeks. Whilst the harvest is far from complete, large areas of once flooded terraces are now bare, with the only trace of rice being the wonderfully patterned hand cut stubble lines that reflect the early women’s efforts as they placed each plant in its final growing place. These light sandy alluvial soils that typify the district, are now being either tilled by hand or worked with the ox plough in a hurried preparation for wheat, mustard, or vegetables which will be grown over the next few months.
|Nothing wasted, manure is carried and spread ready for the next crop.|
|Soil is prepared with traditional tools.|
|A young couple work together preparing ground for potatoes|
after rice. Good to see team work.
|A rare site, cultivating with a long handled mattock|
creating a seedbed in the light soils..
Noticing all this seasonal change I’m on my way to a first day’s work with the District Livestock Services Office, here in Besisahar. Strangely, my mind is filled with reflections of my mother’s face and the feelings of clutching her loving hand as she took me to my first days schooling in Penwortham, Preston way back in the early 60’s. Now over fifty years later some of that fear of meeting new people and facing new challenges re-emerges. Silently I’m deafened by my own advice. Making long lasting ‘Change’ will not be possible without being able to plant the germ of my enthusiasm in other people’s minds. But it’s an easy first day, since I’m to join a small team and visit a couple of dairies in the west of Lamjung.
|Ploughing is almost exclusively done by men.|
|All ploughs are made of wood with exception of the small steel wearing point.|
This simple tool rips the soil like a tined cultivator.
|The ploughman adds his weight to improve depth.|
|The ox or 'goru' are shared between different family members.|
|On some heavier land a mole board plough is used, achieving a|
depth of 3-4 cms.
After the obligatory two and half hour trip in a van, up the side of a mountain, along a track that could be a river bed strewn with boulders, we have a short meeting in a district service office, visit a local school and finally on to the first dairy. Any milk produced here will make the journey we had made to Besisahar, using the local bus!! Having visited more than a dozen dairies since arriving in Nepal, my questioning process is pretty slick. It needs to be since we hurry along as the evening draws down. The buildings are new, as is the smart, but unused milk chilling tank. There are 17 cows in the herd, with 13 in milk and daily production just 70 litres. There is no lack of enthusiasm on this farm which has been set up for just over a year, but as we talk I discover that many of the cows, despite their stage in lactation and low yield are not yet in calf. A very worrying sign for the future.
|More proud stockmen show us their herd and the new buildings.|
What does the future hold for them?
|This milk producer carries her 4 litres of buffalo|
milk, 3 miles to customers in Besisahar,
Information gathered and farewells made, with promises to return, we moved to the second cow farm. When we finally arrived after a long winding descent into the valley bottom to an even more remote location, it is dark and I can only use my head torch to check the cattle. Even with this poor light I can see that the cows are of a Jersey type but they are thin and their flanks dung coated. As is commonplace on my visits, both feed troughs and water buckets are empty. It’s going to be a long time to their next meal in the morning. We quickly go to the front of the small traditional house where the farmer answers a few of our questions as he rubs the mud from his bare feet and fiddles with the woolly hat that covers his dark close-cut hair. Despite the darkness I recognise him from a recent meeting I attended to hear milk producers discuss milk price. Like most British farmers faced with debating this issue, he had harangued the milk buyers present with an emotional speech which clearly reflected his desperate position of only producing 18 litres per day from his 4 milking cows. But as we loaded ourselves back into the truck I thought through his case and the one positive that at least some of his cows were back in calf.
|A milk producers meeting to discuss milk price. The scene|
could be anywhere in the UK, but some of their production systems
are far from sustainable.
|The Himalayan effect causes some wonderful skies as|
the nights draw down.
Here in Nepal the dry season has begun and we will not see significant rain until June, 2015. Apart from tree fodder leaves the only other bulk feed offered to cows will be rice straw. Having spent a lifetime worrying about providing enough feed for cows, in a country where forage production is abundant, my thoughts focussed on the plight of all these farmers and how I could make a difference. In the back of that pickup bouncing along on the homeward trail I felt despair at the task in hand. Despite those barriers of language and culture, sustainable solutions would not be found without someone in which I could create ‘ownership’.
|This man is lopping branches off trees now that |
grass supply is reduced with drier weather.
|His wife gathers and carries to their buffalo.|
|This woman carries a seasonal meal for her stock. A small amount of grass and |
some sheaves of rice straw.
After lerched our way back to Besisahar I sat in the kitchen telling Jude the story of the day. The phone rang and it was Narayan, the 2nd Veterinary officer, from the District Livestock Office, who had organised the day’s trip. I had noticed he had also been eagerly taking notes and framing his own questions to the farmers. On the phone he asked if I had returned home safely, and was looking forward to us working together as a team with a single purpose of improving the long term situation for farmers. We’ve followed up that promising conversation with a meeting to establish some preliminary aims and he has taken me on a short visit to a local egg producer who had a health issue with his flock.
|Will local farmers break with tradition and feed cauliflower waste to cows.|
Whilst sitting chatting the situation through with the poultry farmer I was drawn to look at the large pile of cauliflower waste in his yard. Vegetables are his other enterprise. Narayan and I spent the return journey to the office, discussing the prospect of feeding cauliflower waste, which is plentiful, to dairy cows during the dry season. This green leafy material would moisten the straw well and act as a source of degradable protein.
|Narayan and I outside the District Livestock Office in Besisahar.|
All around there are green shoots of autumnal plantings. There are also piles of waste cauliflower green shoots that may eventually help farmers with their feed problems. There are also the further green shoots in my working relationship with Narayan. The first hopeful signs that someone else really does want to grasp the ‘Ownership’ of finding solutions to the many problems which face milk producers here in Lamjung. Let’s hope I can nurture these first shoots of hope, into a strong young tree that will continue grow when I am gone.