Nepal's Banksy was here!

Nepal's Banksy was here!
Strong message, Simple words

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Events to date.

Six months have passed since arriving in Lamjung and joining the Sisters for Sisters program. So many experiences few of which I have written about. One of the first "milestones" on the projects plan that I could get involved with was an event in each of the 12 communities. I accompanied the Community Mobilisers so see what they had already organised with their Big Sisters.
These were varied.
A singing event at Hiletaksar was lovely to attend. Girls are brought up to sing and dance in Nepal especially in Gurung communities.
 Girls at Baglunpani entertaining visitors.
An Art Competition was another popular event although evidence around the library showed me that it was already well practiced. There are no art lessons in schools and the pictures were mostly of the school buildings and flowers, carefully done and well practiced.
I found the spelling test in Thuloswaro far from joyful and while giving the prizes and returning their marked papers I noticed that a quarter of the girls scored 0 out of 40 with very few scoring over 20.  (You may notice the bright libraries. These are donated by another charity, a welcome sight of colour and books which are scarce in the grey, unadorned classrooms).
Public speaking at Suryadaya brought tears to my eyes. Only one of the girls remembered all of her lines and several stood rigid and frightened as they struggled to perform. No prompts or encouragement.
The General Knowledge quiz was better but still lacked a feeling of enthusiasm or fun. I could not see how these "events" would encourage these marginalised girls to attend school and boost their confidence. So on one sunny day at a Big Sister planning meeting in Bhulbhule we had a re-think and the English Games Circuit took root.
Back to the office and we started making low cost resources.
Anju, Muna, Suchana and Manju
I collected stones from the river and searched the town for small pots of paint and varnish.
I traced around a young girl downstairs and spent hours painting a picture of the environment, with Simon's more expert help (especially the animals).

Teaching the Community Mobilisers about Kim's game and pelmonism, with home-made cards of colours, was fun. We were going to do an A-Z scavenger hunt but that was beyond my powers of explanation. The first time we tried it the girls had great fun running about but all they came back with was bits of litter. A great way of clearing the school area but not quite the idea!!

Kim's Game is a great memory exercise especially playing it in English!

Preparing for Maths Magic. Sequencing up and down.
We then had fun trying things out in the office. Training? Surely not. The team soon all became very competitive especially with the fishing game. Our Manager Raj soon got his line entangled in the effort to get the final fish! He has now been promoted to the Head Office in Kathmandu, a great loss to us but happily Srijana, our professional mentor, has taken over.  Trying to find magnets to attach to the end of the lines was an unexpected challenge. I eventually found out that I needed to scrounge around little phone repair shops which was not obvious to me!!
Sarita and Suchana labelling the environment picture.
Having finished our preparations we then took it out into the field, quite literally for the first event. We arrange the Little Sisters in their teams of 4 in a big circle.
The Big Sisters explain one game each and become the "expert" and the groups move around after 5 minutes at each station. It is wonderful when teachers come out to watch and some have been heard to say that they could use the ideas in their classes. Yes!!!!

How many words can you make in 5 minutes, and in English!

The concept of pelmonism is hard but great excitement when a pair is found.

All hands are in and everyone is involved.


A -  Z race and then  Z - A

Working on problem solving and teamwork are also new skills as teaching still uses rote learning as the norm.

Labelling the body is quite hard as we have included wrist, waist and all sorts of detail.

Another change is that we make sure that everyone has a prize! The only drawback of this is carrying everything up to the school that are on the tops of the hills, some a 3 hour slog. In  the UK students might not be delighted with pens and exercise books but many of our Little Sisters cannot afford these so everyone is pleased. They also all receive red Tika on the forehead as a mark of celebration.

Have they enjoyed themselves. So far yes. Last week one of the Little Sisters gave an impromptu speech in which she said " it is so good to have fun and do so much learning as well". Fantastic, music to my ears!!!


Saturday, 14 March 2015

Cooperation, the only way.

When your house and cows are situated halfway up a mountain, your nearest neighbour is a twenty minute walk away, and to reach the customers for your main source of regular income requires a three and half hour drive, down to the flat eastern Nepal plains, there is only one option for survival-----Cooperate with fellow farmers.
A patchwork of tea gardens and woodland make-up the Ilam landscape

Uchit's small farm perched on the hillside.

Uchit proudly shows us his two cows

Uchit Bahadur Rai, is a milk producer in Nepal’s most eastern district, Ilam. From his hillside small holding we can see the distant hills of India. Milk is not the most important agricultural product here, since conditions are ideal for growing Nepal’s favourite drink plant, tea. Rice, millet and maize have all been displaced by low growing tea bushes, set out like a ‘mini maze’ across the undulating hillsides. But there are storm clouds on the horizon for this beverage industry, where the processors  sheds also punctuate this manicured landscape. The world price of tea has dropped by 75% and with it the incomes of the main ethnic group that populate Ilam, the Rai. Thoughts of once more of returning to producing  milk as a ‘cash cow’ are starting to emerge amongst the scattered rural communities but the change will not be without hitches.

Tea gardens have replaced most other enterprises. Its the dry season and picking has not started

Ponies are a practical and popular form of transport in the mountainous district of Ilam.

No one has reached a point of ripping out the carefully clipped tea gardens, but finding a source of food for animals during the 8 month dry season has been particularly hard in this district. With limited quantities of arable bi-products such as rice straw or maize stalks available farmers have turned to gathering ‘Broom’ plant leaves. This plant is named after its seed heads which are cut to make brushes. Being a member of the bamboo family, which is famed for being the only food of the lonely Panda. This herbivore has to literally eat all day to gain enough sustenance. So Broom plants are not brimming with nutrients.

Broom plant --'friend or foe'

Women gather forage for livestock. Maize stalks on the left and Broom plant on the right. A pile of the other main bulk feed, rice straw lies further to the left.

We’ve arrived in Ilam after a 12 day trip taking in Tanahau, Nawalparasi, Lalitpur, Kavre ,Chitwan and  Makawanpur districts in Nepals central region. Our small team of four have been charged with visiting milk chilling centres and farmers to recommend how linkages between them could be improved. Two team members represent the dairy processors and milk collecting cooperatives, the third is a chartered accountant who specialises in investment advice, and I complete the gang. My role is to advise and increase the knowledge of my fellow team members.

The Team. From the left, Saurabh the Team Leader, with one of the Nepali national cricket team we met along the way (sporting a light blue hat), Kobiraj representing farmers, and Rajendra representing the milk processors.

In Lalitpur, another hilly district close to Kathmandu, buffalo are the main source of milk. Here a woman tends the large herd whilst her daughter-in-law uses an electric chaff cutter to chop straw and grasses for the stock.

A Nawalparasi  District producer with his herd.

Back to Uchit Rai and the problems he faces, which are similar to those faced by all the milk producers we have visited. How to get the 5 to 10 litres (occasionally more but most often less) produced each day to the market place. Nepal’s farmers are wonderful at cooperating and by setting up milk collection points, and chilling centres, the literally hundreds of producers in an area can bring their milk together and present a sizable volume that can be sold on to a processor. Each morning the paths, tracks, steps and roads are the networks by which farmers carry aluminium cans of product to the aggregation point. From here women farmers, ponies, bicycles, carts carry churns up the chain to a chilling centre for cooling and final transport to the buyer. A woman will earn 300 rupees per hour for carrying a 40 litre. churn to the chilling centre.

In Karve district a woman carries milk to a collection point. Ponies,

The rather sombre looking  Uchit Rai shows us his ginger crop.

A much more animated shot with some of the vegetables he also grows.   Milk and ginger production are his first step out of subsistence farming, and a move towards the governments aim of commercialisation.

 But there lies the rub. For all you non farming types, cows get milked twice a day and so there milk needs to be chilled both evening and morning. Some chilling centres have opened their doors for milk chilling in the afternoon. Yet distance precludes many farmers who have to do the best they can and allow milk to cool naturally overnight to be mixed with the morning milk. The safety of this practise is even more doubtful when the ambient air temperature could be over 30c. So milk quality is an issue and the resulting dairy products such as milk, curd and cream are only given a shelf life of 2 days!!!

A Tanahau district milk producer gets her afternoon milk weighed before being chilled at a farmer owned milk chilling centre. The milk is sampled for fat and solid not fat, which in this district form the basis for payment. In other districts payment is based entirely on fat percentage.

Despite all these problems, which make any issues that their UK counterparts may have, pale into total insignificance, there is an ever growing demand for dairy products in Nepal. The work of the processors creating markets and building small milkpowder producing plants has taken away the threat of ‘milk holidays’, during which processors did not want milk. This more predictable market place has given farmers like Uchit new confidence. A thirst for new ideas and sustainable production boosting knowledge now exists and I guess some recommendations  from our Team may refer to quenching this thirst.

Ilam’s milk cooperatives are however breaking other new ground. Faced with 4 young men who wanted to follow many of their contemporaries and migrate abroad for work, they dipped into their funds, supplied cows and buildings to set them up as dairy farmers. That was 7 months ago and now the milk is flowing, cows look well and are back in calf but the lack of knowledge is holding their embryonic enterprise back. Their practices are still based on tradition rather than sound science.  Not surprisingly  their cooperative have done the easy part by providing funds, but have not developed a  mechanism for building the knowledge of these new dairy industry entrants. 

The four young farmers crowd around one of their cows. They are keen and doing a great job.

Let’s finally go full circle and return to the Broom plant. Cow’s milk under normal circumstances can be expected to have a fat content of 4%. Or as one market focused farmer friend always put it ---96% fat free!!. Milk produced by cows in Ilam can be as low as 3.1% which is pretty catastrophic when milk price is calculated on fat content. I strongly suspect that the oily leaves of the Broom plant play a part in this scenario. What can be done about it? In search of support, and to have a few thoughts confirmed, I’ve contacted my old adviser back in the UK, Paul Henman of Promar International, with whom I’ve discussed a few other dairy related problems in recent weeks. He has spent time in India so knows the challenges. We are still turning the issues over. The prize, if we find a feasible sustainable solution, could be a 20% rise in the milk price for Uchit and other remote tea garden farmers.




Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Millet porridge and Raksi

Ox plough at work, ploughing a number of times works up a tilth.

Jude shows willing when a group of girls pass by carrying baskets of manure

Squatting, a woman farmer spreads manure in the traditional way. The same tool is used for all jobs. Notice she is burning
some organic matter that could be buried.

Ox ploughs have been working ground all winter preparing for the next big planting which will be maize. Teams of women hauling ‘mal’, manure from the ‘bhainsi’, buffalo, and goats can be seen walking long distances from their livestock housing in the villages to the distant water fed terraces. The small conical piles of manure are spread by hand and repeatedly ploughed down to form a rough maize seedbed.

High dry terraces grow a crop of millet

Millet close-up. When ripe and dry the heads are cut of the millet and the straw
cut later.

On the high more marginal slopes, albeit slower, the same routine has begun, and maize will be planted in April to be followed by millet. Lack of water to flood these terraces is a bar to growing rice. Until visiting Samibhanyjang,  a village in west Lamjung situated at 1200m, I was unsure what these small round millet grains were used for.

Adopting a photo pose this young boy is clutching a millet flour roti

 On one occasion whilst waiting for the sun to set over Lamjung Himal I had been approached by a young boy keen to have his photo taken. It was late in the day and I thought that the dark brown somewhat dry roti that he ate was just a burnt offering to keep him quite whilst the real food was prepared. Not so, this little round pancake was made from millet flour giving it the dark colour and course texture.
Millet heads are thrashed with a stick and trodden to separate the grain.

Millet grain, not unlike mustard seed
Most rural houses will have a small mill like this to grind all grains from maize to beans

Now, as our daal bhaat was being prepared there was a chance to see ‘millet’ porridge being cooked. Squatting below the smoke layer in a small room approached only from the outside, Mam was heating some water over the wood fire. Into this millet flour is added, stirring continually.
Mam prepares a few beans for daal bhaat. The floor she is working on is formed from repeated coats of watery clay
applied with a cloth.

To the water , the millet flour is added and stirred until a thick dough is formed.
 This light coloured flour soon turns brown as the heat cooks the grain and the liquid turns to a dough like consistence. Once the porridge has achieved a rubbery semi solid  consistency the cooking is done and once on the plate looks like a unappealing amorphous mass. Mem sir, a head teacher from the local school who also shares our accommodation, much prefers porridge to rice, and soon devours the plateful. The little crumb that I am offered, quite unexpectedly goes down well ,and I can see its appeal. For some families, where rice cannot be grown and is too expensive or distant to buy, these roti’s and porridge will be the starch providing staples.

Millet porridge, meat and veg curry, are accompanied by the ever present daal.
Next morning Mem sir is keen to show us how raksi, a millet based alcohol drink is made. Whole millet seeds are mixed with water and a small ball of locally available  yeast.  This is then left to ferment for a week or so.
Into the pot Mam places the fermented millet

A little water is added
This fermented mixture is then placed in a large metal pot, placed on a fire and mixed with more water. Onto the top of this bowl another vessel with holes in the bottom is placed and into this a small ceramic container is carefully concealed. This clay vessel also contains a little water. The final vessel,a conical bowl fashioned from copper which neatly fits the second vessel, is placed atop and is again filled with cold water. All joins between these metal vessels are neatly sealed with rags and the distillation process is underway as the fire heats the millet mixture.
The middle vessel complete with holes.

Middle vessel in place with the ceramic bowl inside.

A seal is put around the top pot

Nearly complete

Final rag seal is fitted

Mam applies a little wind to the fire using a old pipe

Mem sir proudly watches over the proceedings

Vapourised alcohol rises from the bottom vessel, through the holes in the second and upon meeting the water cooled under surface of the top container condenses and drips back into the ceramic container below. All pretty straight forward but there is a little intriguing adage which made me chuckle. The water in the top container must be changed in order to keep it cool and allow the condensation to continue. If it is changed 3 times the alcohol is very strong and is called ‘ tin pani’, ‘tin’ meaning three and ‘pani’ water.  The interesting thing is that the top vessel bears a striking resemblance to a small kettle drum. The drum section of an orchestra is known as the ‘timpani’. Is there a real connection or not?

Mam finally decants the raksi, and stores for another day

Nothing wasted the spent millet is fed to chicken
During a lull in the distillation process Mem sir took us to a local garden owned by an aged man where we planted some seeds. The ICS co-ordinator and a volunteer Bijay were kean to use the tools we had used in our Healthy Soils training.

 As Juliana demonstrates there is no need to squat.

Plenty of compost

Some are home saved seeds