Give Them Seeds

In Kushadevi of Kavrepalanchok district, a 62-year-old grandmother who was rescued after two hours from a collapsed house was searching for cucumber seeds in the debris. This search for seeds represents an ignored part of the destruction unleashed by the 7.9-magnitude Great Earthquake. But it paints a real picture of Nepali society. Nepalis have a history of not depending on others. But there are no cases of people dying from hunger. An agricultural country, our land is fertile for all kinds of seeds.

After completion of the first phase rescue, national and international aid has been pouring into hill and mountain communities. The aid has mainly focused on tarpaulins, wash kits, and food items which will help victims in the short run. The food served as relief item is not nutritious as it lacks nutrients. So people cannot depend on those for long. The harsh landscape is making it difficult to deliver relief items and food packages to all affected places, exposing the absence of the state.

Given absent government mechanism and difficult terrains, it is not possible to provide food relief to victims for a long time. It also makes them dependent and kills their productivity. These communities need immediate as well as long-term support.

Monsoon is about to arrive and this is the best time to plant hope in rural people as monsoon plantation feeds them for the whole year. Unfortunately, nearly all seeds of important crops and vegetables were buried under collapsed houses. While sending aid to heal immediate wounds, we need to see how people can rebuild their lives. The relief could also focus on research and distribution of seeds of fast-growing crops that can address the short term need.

Nepal's unique topography and climate model could ensure the resilience of the people from hilly areas. Scientists should conduct research on soil structures, climates, landscapes, and crops feasibility. This could prove to be a boon for the long-term sustainability of farmers. This is important because Nepal's rural economy is dominated by agriculture and animal husbandry. The little money they save from supplying milk to the nearby dairy, selling goats, chicken and the vegetables they grow is all that they have.

This life has highly been badly disturbed. This way of life must be resurrected, not just to overcome the immediate trauma but also to heel long-term psychological wounds. The more we engage affected people in something productive, the more we can get out of this shock. The feelings of ownership can play the role of psychological balm.

In case of rebuilding destroyed houses, tarpaulins work only for a few days. The impending monsoon will tear them down and people will suffer. We need economic rebuilding by using local raw material. Many things such as tins, woodworks, bricks and stones can be recovered from destroyed houses.

All they need are equipment, technology and raw material. This is the time to collectively develop a model for relief and development in Nepal. Rebuilding will be complex and challenging because of our difficult terrain. Shortage of manpower can make things even more difficult.

People lost their houses in the earthquake but not all of their fields. They can grow vegetables such as pumpkins, cucumbers, peanuts, mushroom and, most of all, rice which will be ready for harvest and consumption in the next few months.

The quake has instilled fear in people. They feel they have lost everything. But the truth is they might have lost their relatives and homes, but their lands are intact. The victims should be reenergized through their engagement in rebuilding. Providing them with seeds and tools to grow crops can make them self-reliant. This is also a sustainable way of rebuilding lives. Instead of talking big, let's start the recovery process by providing our farmer seeds.
(It was originally published in Republica Daily) 

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