Nepal's Banksy was here!

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

Monday, 15 February 2016

Our time in Nepal is drawing to a close..........but the pace of work increases.

The days are quickly turning into weeks and the end of our stay in Nepal together with our work has started to reach a conclusion. The pace instead of slackening off has stepped up a gear or two with the inclusion of the NGO, Forward Nepal, in my project. Forward has been working in agricultural extension work since the late nineties and will bring with it a small but very experienced Nepali team, who will run the pilot projects. These pilots are expected to demonstrate if our system of good manufacturing practise (GMP) for raw milk works or not. A secondary goal is trying to find the best way of implementing the GMP model into the milk chain.

A typical farm yard in Kavre District, close to Kathmandu. Buffalo are the main milking animal, and together with selling
goats for meat they illustrate the importance of livestock farming in these communities.

What has raw milk quality got to do with development I hear you asking? In a subsistence farming economy like Nepal’s, one of the challenges faced by households is producing ‘cash’. The search for cash has driven a huge section of the population abroad, making foreign remittances the counties biggest source of income. Improved milk quality is not going to stop this phenomenon but it could provide additional household income that can be used to improve education, give better standards of health and be a catalyst for different life choices. We’ve developed training packages that also weave in ways of improving output, like increasing water fed to animals and also cut production costs by eliminating the need to cook food for cattle. Taking away this cultural practice, that does not benefit livestock, will reduce the environmental impact caused by burning wood, whilst at the same time improve the lives of women who’s job it is to collect wood and do the cooking. It’s a win win situation. Cut costs and income rises.

Many farmers cook food for cattle. There is no benefit to these cattle since they have a
rumen to aid digestion of fibre. Cooking represents a huge waste of resources and stopping the
practice will reduce environmental impact as well as reducing the workload for women.

Dr. Krishna Paudel (left) discusses the finer points of a lovely local cross bred cow with a Taria based farmer. 

Dr Krishna Paudel will lead the Forward team. He has a wealth of experience gleaned from working with the INGO, Heifer International, on programs where training farmers and reaching very isolated rural communities has been their bread and butter activity. We signed our agreement with Forward only a week ago and already there is a work plan in place and an inception meeting, to sort out the role of the various Government stakeholders, is in the diary. I guess this area of work relating to engaging with the government and other stakeholders has been the most frustrating over recent months, often feeling like this is putting the brakes on the whole project. But without real, meaningful ‘buy-in’ from the Government the whole intervention will be ‘dead in the water’. If the pilot schemes are run successfully and a the process of GMP for raw milk actually does prove to lift quality then it will be enshrined in policy and a new national standard will become law.

A typical farm yard on the flat lands of the Tarai which borders northern India. Many of these small holders, whilst they do not supply milk to the piloted cooperatives, we hope will attend the training sessions and become addition beneficiaries of
our work.
We met with a government department the other day. The Department for Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) deals with food safety and quality standards in processors. So interested in our work was the Director General that he wanted to implement the GMP without running a trial. We suggested that pilots had to take place to fine tune the GMP model and find a good method of implementation. He responded by giving us a Memorandum of Understanding which, believe me, are not easy to get. This will give use the permissions we need to do the work and is evidence of the Government’s interest, which will lead hopefully to future sustainability and a possible national roll out. Ultimately this roll out is what we are looking for to maximize the numbers of farming household beneficiaries and the impact of our work.

More recently still, the Department of Livestock Services has come on board. Training farmers is one of their key responsibilities so involving them in our curriculum development work will give them ownership of the GMP. Successful piloting will ensure that our training programs form the basis of their activities next year and beyond.

Whilst Forward picks up the work, my development partner, Samarth, is still engaged in finding raw milk supply chains to use as pilots. Already we have one in east Nepal where we will partner with the Kamdhenu Dairy Cooperative and its 1700 farmers, situated in the mountainous district of Dhankota. More recently we have been working with the Dairy Industry Association who represent the big milk processors to find a suitable supply chain in Karve district here in central Nepal.

In the dry season the atmosphere is often misty and not good for photography. Even so this poor image shows how difficult
life is facing small holder farmers in the rugged valleys of Kavre. The hill tops are 2400m and valley bottoms over 1000m below.
Kathmandu, and its urban markets sits in a valley at about 1300m altitude surrounded by the mid-hills of the Himalayas. Just one hours drive from the city and you are in inaccessible steep sided valleys of Kavre that are home to subsistence farming communities growing rice and maize in the short monsoon season. During the long dry season, when the soil becomes parched, milk income from buffaloes is vital to maintaining the way of life. Despite the closeness of the city market there have been some challenges to linking these farmers to their customers. The first is accessibility but after seventeen years of toil the Japanese have reduced the problem by building a road that runs the length of the district and onwards to east Nepal. The second challenge is milk hygienic quality. The milk processors of Kathmandu would rather drive six times further to Chitwan, close to India, to source milk rather than use that which is on its doorstep. If the milk quality can be improved by implementing the GMP model in Kavre then real benefits will follow for these farmers together with delivering a message to stakeholders that if we can do it here we can do it anywhere!

This lovely Tamang couple had earned money working in Qatar. They have invested
their savings in a farm with several buffaloes and clearly love the life. 

The couples efforts are benefiting their isolated community in many ways. They provide employment for the two women on the right, whose families will also benefit from our work on securing farm incomes. 

Our visit soon attracts a small crowd.

In search of possible pilot sites we visited Timal Mahabharat Multipurpose Cooperative Ltd in Narke Bazar, Kavre where 600 farmers produce a total of 3500lts per day. Simple mathematics illustrates the small volumes of milk that are sold by each household. Women do much of the work such as milking, feeding and a host of daily chores, and then they carry their few litres for sale to one of the twenty seven collection points. Its not until the milk finally reaches the central milk-chilling centre up to sixteen hours after milking that chilling takes place. We can now see why milk quality is so poor and what it might take to remedy the situation.

The facilities at a milk collection centre!

Sometimes a training session there and then has greatest impact. How to clean a milk churn properly.

Milk is often transported in plastic containers which are very difficult to clean, amongst other things.

If our GMP system is adopted, low cost, low rinse and safe chemicals designed to be
used with cold water will be made available. This man shows us the chemicals he uses to
clean his utensils. These detergents are meant for cleaning clothes in hot water. We have
found this situation throughout the districts we have visited.

A Kavre milk chilling centre. Chilling is achieved by using a plate cooler and iced water. The only storage is on the processors lorry.

Maize stover (straw) drying in the sun. I was surprised to discover that is low value feed is a staple for cattle in many districts. When chopped it forms the main roughage in the cattle diet. Being ruminants these cattle can digest this fibrous feed provided the diet contains sufficient protein. Unfortunately dietary protein is very low.
Despite this seemingly desperate state of affairs, farmers have come together to pool their milk, create some strength in the market place and save costs. These cooperatives have bought vehicles for collection but very little else. The pilot schemes will also look into the possibility of these cooperatives providing more chilling tanks with their own funds. This together with some business training should allow cooperatives to ‘help themselves’ and reduce donor dependence.

On our field visit a meal is prepared on the open fire pit and served in metal crockery. Using brass plates is thought to be healthy.

The human diet is also quite often short in quality protein. This meal contains large amounts of starch in the form of dhido (thick maize porridge) and rice accompanied by a little sag (cooked green leaves) and achar (pickle). Protein comes from dhal (lentils) or just occasionally a small amount of meat.
More recently our search for raw milk supply chains to use as pilots has taken us further west to Rupandehi and Kapilbastu districts that lie on the flat Tarai lands bordering India. Here in these privately owned milk-chilling centres that are supplied by farmer cooperatives, access is less of a problem. Milk is often brought to collection centres by bicycle twice a day. The onward transfer to the chilling centre can be by jeep or motorised rickshaw!

The flat lands of the Tarai are a total contrast to the hilly Kavre district. So to is the method of carrying. Here women farmers return home with bundles of mustard plants ready for thrashing. 

Zebu cattle are used draft animals. In the hills smaller ox are used for ploughing and occasionally as beasts of burden.

The Milijuli milk chilling centre. Here a private owner has capitalised the supply chain with chilling vats and generators etc. We are asking why can't Kavre's cooperatives do the same, they essentially have the same financial resources.

Just another job for the rick shaw.

Milk is tested for fat and solids not fat using an analyser. Nowhere do they test for bacterial quality.

Milk arriving at a chilling centre on the Tarai

Berseem, a legume grown for feeding cattle. A good source of dietary protein and a soil improver.

Some farmers have had help from the government to buy simple machines to chop forage. In this case straw, grass and Barseem. What they have not had provided is training in the basics of feeding cattle.

It is common practice to feed animals twice a day. Each time products like rice or wheat bran
are mixed with water. This forms a thin soup which is rapidly drunk. This is usually the only water
on offer regardless of the temperature and the extra demands caused by sweating and producing milk.

A woman stock worker on a larger dairy.

Buffaloes await food and water on the Tarai.

This farming family, like so many others, is just getting enough income from their small herd of buffaloes to survive. No extra income is generated for saving or reinvestment.
Meeting all these farmers in different districts has opened our eyes to the lack of training provided in the past. There is a huge desire by these small milk producers to learn more. Our challenge will be refining our training  to include only the most important messages and devise a delivery that is practical, short and involves doing rather than being told. We will use pictorial reminders that will be posted at each farm together with local radio, a short video and text messaging to ram home the principles. Already we are finding ‘Lead Farmers’ offering their help to train and facilitate more knowledge transfer once the pilots are concluded. Behavioural change is notoriously difficult to achieve but that is our final goal, and with it we hope to achieve a measure of sustainable development.

Field work brings other experiences. Here Puris are prepared to be eaten for breakfast with
a simple vegetable curry.

Making jerri. Batter is pressed through a cloth and fried. 

After frying the jerri is dipped in a sugar solution to make a sweet snack. On the tray in front some are ready for sale. 


  1. Wow, fascinating as always. What a detailed account and what a lot of work you are doing. Congrats on getting that government go-ahead and good luck with setting it all up. Sounds like another year's work to me!

    1. Julia there is another years work but for us it is time to go.

  2. It would seem the opportunities for improvment are numerous. I assume the challenge is convincing people to invest time and financial resourses when the economy is so weak and volatile? Has the dispute with India calmed down?

    1. There are many things that could be changed. In fact I am currently re-writing the training curriculums ready for the TOTT sessions we are about to hold. In doing so I am reminded of the feeling each time I start a short impromptu coaching session with a farmer. "where do you start, there is so much knowledge to transfer in such a short time". What makes it worse is that farmers are so hungry for knowledge you always feel you input has been totally inadequate.

      Getting behavioural change however is another thing. A number of these practices such as cooking food for cattle have been passed down through the generations and will not easily be stopped. But the benefits are massive. The farmer with the brown cow had stopped cooking a year ago with no ill effects. Feel like taking him along to training sessions or making a video of his story.

      The fuel situation for vehicles is a little better but gas is going to take some time to correct.

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