Kunchok Dolma lives with her 89-year-old husband in a simple house in the Jampaling Tibetan refugee settlement near Pokhara, Nepal. At 68, Kunchok struggled to grow vegetables to feed her family, a fact she attributes to her lack of knowledge about gardening in her new home, which is quite different from what she knew and practiced on the Tibetan Plateau.
“I used to farm using traditional methods, but we are in a different climate here and I didn’t have much idea about what to do when harmful insects attacked our plants,” she says. Kunchok yearned to be able to grow crops again in her new surroundings. “It keeps me going and is necessary for living.”
I learned about Kunchok’s story in New Delhi, where USAID partners recently met to share successes and lessons learned from the Economic Development of Tibetan Settlements in India and Nepal project (EDOTS). The project is improving the economic status of Tibetan settlements through a range of activities that address unemployment and underemployment. By improving livelihood opportunities in the settlements, the hope is that Tibetan youth will find enough opportunities to remain, thus ensuring that Tibetan identity, cultural and linguistic traditions are passed on through the generations.
Kunchok was a keen participant in the EDOTS agriculture outreach activities. Through project funding, she obtained the basic necessities to start a small kitchen garden next to her house and joined a group mushroom growing cooperative as well. More than 50 farmers from Kunchok’s community took part in the EDOTS-sponsored organic gardening and mushroom cultivation workshops.
Kunchok’s garden thrived through both the winter and summer growing seasons, and she was able to improve her family’s diet with the produce harvested, which included tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables and spices. “Now I have a clear idea of jholmol [organic pesticide] techniques for controlling insects and managing a kitchen garden, which makes me more interested in my farming work,” she says.
Finally, she says with emotion, “We, the people of Jampaling, are hard workers. The [USAID EDOTS] project has made us hard workers in agriculture again. This project has restored the culture of farming in Jampaling and has made me and my people great. Thank you.”
Though the EDOTS project is slated to end soon, Kunchok and the other project beneficiaries are upbeat. With their niche, high-value produce in demand at nearby markets and restaurants — especially by tourists — they are confident of their ability to more fully participate in the broader Nepali economy now and in the future.