Every morning when I open my eyes and look out the window of my house, I can see the beautiful Himalaya Mountains. Even Mt. Everest is clearly visible from my small farm in Nepal.
I have never tried to climb Mt. Everest: As a farmer in Nepal, I face enough challenges already!
Only about a quarter of the land in Nepal is arable. In a country of high altitudes and on steep slopes, good farmland is rare. We just don’t have the same agricultural opportunities as people elsewhere.
On top of that, we lack timely access to the seeds and fertilizer that are essential to farming. It’s also hard to hire young people: Most of them leave the country for short-term jobs in Malaysia or the Persian Gulf region, leaving behind a workforce of the elderly. Insurance is expensive, proper irrigation is uncommon, and in recent years drinking water has become harder to obtain, probably due to the impact of climate change. Government support for small farmers is almost inaccessible.
The roads are bad, too. Although I live only 60 kilometers east of Kathmandu—the biggest city as well as the capital of Nepal—the journey takes about four hours. Just getting around the country is difficult. Landslides bury the roads periodically. In the winter, snow can make them impassable in higher altitudes. Rain from the annual monsoon inflicts seasonal damage due to the haphazard construction of the earthen road in the hilly slopes.
Those are the normal hazards. Two years ago, however, we suffered a massive earthquake in Nepal. Nearly 9,000 people died. Tens of thousands were injured. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes. The estimated rebuilding cost of $10 billion is equal to half of our country’s annual GDP. To put that in perspective, half of the GDP of the United States comes to about $8 trillion.
Fortunately, my family survived the earthquake. My brother was stuck beneath a collapsed wall for several hours, but he got well quickly. The house where my parents used to live was destroyed completely. My own house was partially damaged, and I lost four goats and a cattle shed. We’re still recovering from the devastation.
I also know we’ll be okay. I come from a long line of farmers who have eked out a living in Nepal—and they overcame plenty of challenges, too. Their example inspires me to farm with success today.
My farm is small, comprised of just 26 ropani. That’s a traditional and most common unit of measurement in the Nepalese hills. It takes about eight ropani to make an acre, and so our farm is roughly three acres in total size, though it’s also split into several pieces. I grow a number of crops, including rice, corn, soybeans, wheat, oil seeds, and vegetables.
For many years, I’ve also raised milk cows. I used to sell milk to the dairy, but then I realized that I could make more money selling door-to-door in the local market. I also take milk to Kathmandu. The roads could be better, but the demand is strong. My customers include both neighbors near my farm and hotels in a city of a million people.
I’m committed to sustainability—and so I’ve become an advocate of agroforestry. In this way of farming, crops and trees grow together. Because our farmland in Nepal is so hilly, the trees protect the soil against erosion, including the ever-present hazard of landslides. As a result, my crops are more productive, allowing us to grow more food on less land.
Agroforestry offers an additional benefit: The trees are themselves a resource, as we cultivate a mix of fruit trees and forest trees that provide fodder for cattle and goats.
Agroforestry makes sense for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because we don’t have large chunks of flat land. Instead, our farmland is highly fragmented—and the best farmers take a variety of approaches to agriculture. Agroforestry helps us combine crops with animal husbandry. The cattle produce organic manure, which nourishes the crops and improves long-term soil fertility.
One of my major goals as a farmer is to demonstrate that agroforestry is socially acceptable, economically beneficial, and environmentally friendly.
This is enough of a challenge. Mt. Everest can wait!