A water user committee is the initial vehicle for advanced livelihoods
Edwin de Korte, was the Chief Livelihoods Advisor from June 2016 –July 2019. He set up the livelihood team and made it more agri-business oriented. At his departure he shares some of his experiences.
When I came to work for RVWRMP in mid-2016 I already had many years of experience of working in Nepal in several projects and areas of the country. However, for many of the project districts, such as Bajura, Bajhang, Darchula Achham and Humla this was the first time that I had a chance of visiting and working there.
Agriculture is still the main source of livelihoods for most people, and even that is mostly only subsistence agriculture and not even enough to feed a family for the whole year.
The project areas, especially the ones further to the North and further away from the main roads, are some of the least developed in Nepal, and for that reason RVWRMP has chosen to work there. Agriculture is still the main source of livelihoods for most people, and even that is mostly only subsistence agriculture and not even enough to feed a family for the whole year. That is also a reason that many people work in neighboring India or even further away in the Gulf region or Malaysia.
Using the excess water of the water supply and recycling of household water allowed the households to establish small productive home gardens. This is how the livelihood component came on board of the RV.
This is definitely not an easy area to work in, also taking into consideration the effects of climate change, the traditional views on gender and ethnicity and overall low levels of government support. Changes happen slowly and cannot be forced but should be guided and strengthened wherever they happen.
During the relatively short time that I worked with RVWRMP, I have actually seen quite some changes in many areas, some of them not always changes for the best. The change in government and subsequent federalization led to the project working very closely with the newly elected Rural Municipalities. This was a great opportunity for the project to work even closer together with the local government and local people. It resulted in more bottom-up planning taking into account demands and strengths of the local population.
Many parts of the project area have been opened up by increased new and improved infrastructure, notably roads and electricity. Sometimes these were not well planned and caused erosion and damage to the environment. When well implemented this is leading to better living conditions of the population.
Many parts of the project area have been opened up by increased improvement in the infrastructure, both roads and electricity.
Seriously worrying is the rapid drying up of water sources in certain areas of the project districts that I’ve noticed. While talking to people it is clear that water is becoming a scarcer commodity. Thus managing the different water uses will become more and more important. It is also important that people are aware that water may not always be available for free. Payment for operation and maintenance in water supply and irrigation is becoming normal but that is not enough to pay for the renewal after lifecycle is finished and protecting the water resources in general. The predicted effects of Climate Change will surely require even stronger water resources management.
RVWRMP from the first phase has been successful in developing organizations as the User Committees around drinking water supply. Since almost all people in the working area are farmers, it came almost as natural to work with the same groups in their agriculture. Using the excess water of the water supply and recycling of household water allowed the households to establish small productive home gardens. This is how the livelihood component came on board of the RVWRMP. Once people are organized and see results they become energized to improve other components in their lives. RVWRMP is one of the few trusted organizations working closely with the people in the area. The Project responded to the needs of the base and became a more integrated water project adding total sanitation (including menstrual hygiene), renewable energy (improved cookstoves and improved water mills), home gardens, and agricultural value chain development. Steadily more and more the needs and capacities of the people in the villages were embraced and incorporated in the Project.
Related to agriculture and nutrition, progress is definitely visible everywhere and is on a scale that it will sustain itself. Areas where people did not grow or consume any vegetables are now producing a range of vegetables for household consumption, which has a huge impact on the nutritional status, especially of women and children.
Commercial agriculture is still in its infancy and has to cope with many overwhelming hurdles, such as competition with cheap imports from India, high transport costs, unavailability of quality inputs and lack of business skills. Still, progress is being made and more and more people not only grow produce for their households but also to earn some hard needed cash. With this cash they can pay the small things like the water fees. That people can pay for water is very important for the sustainability of the drinking water supply.
The proudest moments are when I see people smiling when they receive cash from selling their products for the first time or when women make their first cash contributions to their savings account in their own cooperative.
I cannot claim to have made huge contributions in this complicated context in these couple of years, but I am proud to have worked with, trained and guided many of the local farmers and technicians in all 10 districts of the project area. Sometimes this was only to encourage people and convince them that they themselves can do things with just a bit of support from the project and its staff.
The proudest moments are when I see people smiling when they receive cash from selling their products for the first time or when women make their first cash contributions to their savings account in their own cooperative. Our work is about empowering people to shape their own destiny and make it better for their children. Progress may be slow, but every person that can improve its conditions counts.
I will miss working with this project, particularly with the people in the districts. I will miss the diversity of the population and the landscape, even the incredibly hot summers in the lowland and the bitter cold winters in the mountains. And I will definitely miss all the colleagues who have made my time working here a pleasant time: the three years have passed too quickly. I am in the lucky situation that I will return frequently to Nepal and for sure after a few years being outside of the country I will be happy to come back to work in Nepal again, maybe even in Sudurpaschim province……