Nepal's Banksy was here!

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

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The drive to improve the lives of Nepalese farmers is fuelled by “passion”…………strangely similar to England’s 2016 Six Nations Championship ambitions!!!!

Homeward Bound. Milk production reaches many corners of the community. These ponies in the mountainous district of Illam are returning home after their daily trip delivering milk to a chilling centre. They carry goods like rice, beans and fertiliser back to their communities.
One of the benefits of living away from family in a strange city is the possession of more spare time. This, over the past few decades, with my hectic work and family life, has not always been abundant. Making use of this new found gift I have done a bit of reading. Last night I finished the final few pages of John Stewart Collis’s book ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’, a thoroughly entertaining read, which reminded me of my own early farming experiences based in West Dorset. There is a second book, ‘Down to Earth’, which looks to be a similarly pleasing volume, that starts with the following quote. John de Dondis, a fourteenth century sage, who after declaring that he was disinclined to attach too much importance to wholly explicable relationships, added:

“I have learnt from long experience that there is nothing that is not marvellous and that the saying of Aristotle is true – that in every natural phenomenon there is something wonderful, nay, in truth many wonders. We are born and placed among wonders and surrounded by them, so that to whatever object the eye first turns, the same is wonderful and full of wonders, if only we will examine it for a while”

Working with animals, and farming them, has for me been a wonderful experience. I have been fascinated by what their inner workings. how they differ from us, and ways to make their lives as tolerable as possible and yet earn a living by working alongside them.

Like this farmer on the Tarai, whole derives great joy from rearing her stock, there are many small holders interested in finding out more about the workings of their animals and how they can farm them better.
A farmer with her Zebu cross Jersey says 'namaste'.

More tethered cattle get a drink. Many of the less exotic breeds like Jersey and Holstein crosses, which are becoming more popular, like a maximum temperature of 21-25c. Heat stress and the resulting yield drop is common. The government has a breed improvement programme focused on Jersey and Holstein, but how to minimize heat stress appears nowhere in a training program.
What may you ask has all this to do with life in Nepal? Well the answer is “a great deal”. That interest or even “wonder” that I experience when I see farmed animals (and also the ones not caught up in domesticity) has enabled me to have a “passion” and as a volunteer that is what motivates and drives me on. Another passion is to help other farmers to understand their animals and their needs in a way that will benefit not only the livestock but the lives of the farmers as well.

Recently I returned from a field trip to Dhankota, Sunsari, Jhapa and Illam, all districts in the east, where I met some lovely farmers who were also filled with wonder and passion about their animals. But emanating from them was the almost unanimous cry for help to feed their passion by giving them a better understanding what it is that their animals really want, and how to farm them better. There seems to be is passion and wonder everywhere.

Another scale of activity. The buffalo section of a herd on the Taria.

And on the other side of the manger......the cow section.

A lovely Jersey cross.

Green fodder is grown for the herd. Immature maize plants are often grown when little else will germinate in the dry conditions. The feed value unfortunately is a bit limited.

Despite appearances, and considerable financial investment, all is not well. From all these animals the daily production is only 200lts. Giving direct help by carrying out my own workshops is not the best way of working but occasionally I like to do face to face sessions. So we sat and worked through the basics of calculating the appetite of a cow or buffalo and how to give them a good ration. Oh and not to forget, water requirements. Much of my time is spent in the office doing the groundwork for our intervention and a session like this shows me once again what our training curriculum needs to include. At the same time I get great motivation.....and it feeds my passion!

We will leave Nepal in just a few short months and I’m glad to say that the new team leader, Krishna Paudel, charged with carrying on the work I have been privileged to be involved with, also possesses a passion and a vision. He is a vet and not only understands the inner machinations of these ruminants but also is fascinated by creating simple but effective ways of training farmers.  His vision is that our work with cows, if the pilot schemes should prove successful, will lead to lower costs and greater output, combined with improved milk quality, less environmental impact and potentially could bring with a significant positive change to the lives of these small farmers.

A typical evening image of life at 2500m in a remote Illam village. The larger building is our guesthouse
all the other building are where local residents live and their animals.

Once again we witness milk production as an integrated activity. These local pigs 'sungur' are being fed whey, a bi-product of cheese making.

The income created by milk spreading further into the community. These two men are milk collectors bringing milk to the chilling centre. They make a margin of 2-3 rupees per litre. More importantly the link remote farmers to chilling facilities, and collect their milk twice per day.

I had to include this image of the same two collectors who took off their crash helmets to reveal their hats, "topi", they were wearing underneath!

On the flat Tarai lands that border India cattle are often tethered during the day. Rice straw is in plentiful supply and is mixed with cow dung to make a burning fuel. These women have stacked the fuel they have made.  

A typical small farmstead. Rice straw thatch and woven bamboo walls.

Another style of steading. At ground level the silhouette  of a buffalo can be seen. The stilts are a precaution against flooding. When there is surplus money one of the first changes is to have a tin roof rather than thatch.

Ponies moving milk. The handler intends to collect some milk in the teapot for the tea house he will pass as he returns home. Nothing is too much trouble.

Delivering milk by hand.

Let us turn now to the unlikely bedfellows of the England rugby team and Napali dairy farmers. Those who know me are well aware that I also have a keen interest in rugby union. This stems from my school days, university and has run on ever since. It’s been a sport that, for many years, when work was very taxing became something of a safe haven, a baffle against the attrition of business. Rugby has left me with many fond memories of my wife, daughters and sons also sharing in the fun.

The England rugby team has in some ways arrived at the same crossroads as the Nepali dairy farmers’ industry. England have appointed a new coach, Eddie Jones, whom nobody will deny possesses a vision and a great deal of passion to achieve the aim of creating a winning team. He has selected a group of like minded coaches who are striving to remove the conservatism that has dogged England rugby’s performances over the last decade. This coaching cohort are achieving success by improving awareness, building knowledge, creating team spirit and above all by building confidence and an attitude that says “it is OK to try something new and break away from what has gone before”

In Krishna we have found our passionate, knowledgeable coach who will strive to build better performances in Nepal’s dairy farmers. But who will be those other coaches filled with zeal, that will help him guide the farming community to better performance? We believe that many will be farmers, already effective in what they do, who we can be transformed into trainers. They are superbly positioned within their communities to spread new skills to fellow farmers with the aim of building the confidence needed to change deeply ingrained cultural practises. Being so close to their mentees they will be able to monitor the effectiveness of their training methods and reinforce the important messages when necessary.

Some may remember Balkumar who took over one of my workshops, back in 2014. I thought he was going to challenge all I had said but instead he reinforced my messages. He was totally passionate about his farming and sharing his knowledge. Our challenge to find more like him to help train our 7000 target farmers.

Boring to some, fascinating to Balkumar......a pile of compost.

His fascination extended to soil health.....

.......and his newly planted lemon trees

.......his Bees ( the box in front of him and his wife is a home made hive).

......and with the support of his whole family, he was able to exploit the wonder he saw in everything to create a fully integrated farm. Goats, buffalo, fish, bees, tomatoes and lemon trees.
However, if all this is going to lead to longer lasting and sustainable improvement in performance we need to stimulate some passion within the government services that currently provide training to the farming industry. The first glimmer of interest is already appearing on our radar screen. The top ministry man wants to be involved. We will need to gauge the reasons for his motivation and hope that we find “passion” and “wonder”.  Then hopefully he will find more amongst his departmental team that are similarly motivated to feed the desire for change that has started to emerge from farmers nationwide.

The England national rugby team has set along a road that will lead to improved performance driven by a desire, a hunger and a passion to do better. We have started along a similar route and our group of individuals that are capable of inspiring change are coming together. Let us not underestimate the importance of using those farmers that are already passionate about what they are doing. Our common goal is to answer cries for assistance and in so doing raise household incomes that will widen the span of life choices open to these small livestock farming households.

More milk on the move. This time the handler is also carrying 50kgs on the 3.5 hour walk to
the cheese house.

Load put down, time for a short rest and then off back home.

As Nepal's greatest river the Koshi spills onto the flat Tarai, on its way to the Ganges, huge grazing lands are created. These are used by buffalo herders who rear stock that will be sold for meat in the urban areas and the females as milking animals in the mid- hill districts of Kavre.