Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Final Chapter

Over the past year I have had the extraordinary opportunity to live and work in Nepal as VIVA’s representative. I have gained some valuable experience in livestock programmes in a developing country, from managing an NGO to working with some very talented people, all of whom carry the torch for Nepal’s future. I have also had the chance to share my experiences with some very enthusiastic farmers and veterinary technicians alike. However, I still feel that I have gained more from my time here than I was ever able to give.

It is hard to imagine that I have been living in one of the poorest countries in the world. The generosity of the people in Nepal would put many of us at home to shame and with the soaring Himalayas as a backdrop, it most surely is one of the richest countries for natural beauty. But when you spend a period of time off the beaten track, you begin to understand how difficult it is to eke out a living on a small plot of land in a country that’s 60% mountainous and very densely populated.

Poor governance and corruption are replacing the Maoist insurgency as the single biggest factor holding this country back from development. And at a time when this tiny nation should be jumping on the back of the Indian and Chinese economic bandwagon, it is struggling to settle petty internal squabbles. With all these pseudo issues, it is the people who have been forgotten, especially the 2.2 million people who are suffering from hunger at this moment. It is when you meet the man in the field that you see where our resources must go.

Our programmes are aimed at improving agriculture through technical expertise and women empowerment. Livestock are at the heart of our projects because of their importance in providing food security, animal traction and socio-economic status. I have seen the differences we can make and will do my utmost to show everyone I meet what an impact we can have.

I am regretfully leaving Nepal, but I will take such fond memories that there will always be a part of me left here. I hope to return someday soon to help develop future projects and to evaluate the ones we have in place. I also hope that I can use my experience in other countries and will be a VIVA ambassador for many years to come. I have certainly broadened my horizons and Nepal has taken my outlook on life by the shoulders and given it a very serious shaking up. It has been a pleasure.

Thank you.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Food Crisis in Nepal

It’s the Nepali calendar year 2066 and I’ve been wondering if this is what the future will really hold. I’ve been working here over the last 11 months and I have had to cope with 16 hour power cuts, water shortages and queues outside petrol stations that stretch for kilometres. This little country, wedged in between two emerging superpowers, India & China is still struggling to find its feet after the decade long Maoist insurgency.

But one thing that hasn’t been making the headlines is the shortage of food throughout the country. The UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) is expecting food deficits in 40 out of 75 districts in Nepal. Its World Food Programme is providing food assistance to 2.2 million people or approximately 7% of the population, in what can only be described as a food crisis. We are all familiar with the horrific images of acute hunger, those from famine-struck countries depicting emaciated children with pot bellies, predominately from sub-Saharan Africa. But few are aware of the type of hunger that affects the majority of those suffering from hunger and hunger related illness around the globe. Chronic malnutrition or malnourishment affects 90% of the estimated 800 million people starving at this moment, many of whom are at risk of falling into the acute hunger category. And this is what is affecting so many of Nepal’s people.

VIVA work in the area of livestock development and our current project here in Nepal is based on research that shows a massive deficit in the nutritional status of cattle and domestic buffalo. If you understand how important livestock are to the people of Nepal then you can realise the potential impact our project can have. Firstly, animals provide food and food security in the form of meat, milk, eggs, etc, a valuable source of essential proteins required for bodily growth, development and function. Animal traction serves to pull carts and to plough fields, cultivating food crops and vegetables where tractors can’t reach and hand hoes would take days. Animal manure is extremely valuable when chemical fertilizers are both expensive and unavailable.

VIVA is funding a community based livestock development project which focuses on the women farmers of the project sites as they do 80% of all the agricultural work. It aims to empower these women with the skills they require to increase production from their animals, directly benefitting 375 families. Training is the backbone of all of VIVA’s projects because the old adage of teaching a man to fish is as valid today as it ever was. We also train Community Animal Health Workers (CAHW), which provide basic animal health care to the villages because healthy animals mean healthy farmers.

If we can improve the livestock practices of farmers in Nepal, then we can increase production and so, provide better nutrition for the farming family and excess produce to sell in the market. This can stave off chronic hunger and prevent so many people from suffering starvation. Of course none of our work is possible without the help of you, the Irish public. So log on to or to see how you can help.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Goat Vaccination Camps

Following the distribution of goats to the project participants, the local Village Animal Health Workers have been tagging and de worming as they have been trained to do so.

Peste des Petits Ruminants, or PPR for short, is still a prevalent virus in South Asia and can cause considerable productive losses. The vaccine covers for 3 years and is available free of cost from the Ministry of Agriculture. However, they don't provide trained personnel to do the vaccinating! To prevent this disease we (VIVA Nepal & AHTCS) have been vaccinating all the goats in the project sites, including those belonging to non-members.

We have vaccinated about 600 goats so far and I'm off into the field again for a few days to carry out 3 more camps. Interestingly, we originally planned to carry out a general health camp to coincide with the vaccinations. But the VAHW's have been working so well that there wouldn't be many sick animals at the camps!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Women empowered, Men silenced?

Many believe women empowerment projects should just focus on the women of the community. And although VIVA Nepal concentrates most of it's efforts on the female farmers, it's impossible to achieve proper gender equality without recognition from the men in the family.

This kind of social experiment will not see overnight results and there are no hard and fast rules on how to carry it out. We must try and be inclusive of all community members and not create or deepen divisions. And what's the point of explaining women's rights when no men are there to listen and respect them?

This is why in our last training we invited the chairperson of each group and a male member of the community to participate. Planning Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation training explored all the components of group activity planning. From planning the activities, through efficient execution and effective monitoring. These skills will be very useful once each group begins to establish their own CO-OP and will encourage active participation from the men in the community in all the groups' activities.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fodder and Forage Cultivation Training

In 2007, VIVA implemented the Animal Health Management Program which, in essence, was a research project, evaluating the nutritional status of livestock in Nepal. One of the major findings was the huge deficit in green forage and fodder (grasses and legumes) during the dry season. This was holding back livestock from meeting their full potential of milk and meat production.

CLPSP has evolved from these observations and we have just completed Forage and Fodder Cultivation Training in all the groups. The participants learned about improved grasses and how they are grown. A practical demonstration was used, involving all the members working together to farm these grasses on unused plots of land.

And that's the key! Grasses grow with relative ease in the temperate dry season but shouldn't compete with food crops like wheat and maize. They grow on steep slopes and far away fields that would otherwise lay barren. Now the groups will optimize their land to the full and this will have a big impact on the animals dry matter and crude protein intake. The farmers will also reap the rewards in terms of higher milk and meat yields. All we have to do is wait for the grass to grow!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Goat Distribution

Part of our commitment in Nepal is to distribute livestock to those needy farmers of the CLPSP project. Having received animal and shed management training, and demonstrated their dedication by building new or renovating old sheds, it was time to start distributing the goats. The process is slow and will continue over the next few months.

Now 2 goats for every group family amounts to a total of 750, and you don't just find 750 goats waiting to be bought! We overcame this obstacle by training the farmers in breed selection and scoring. This enabled them to purchase their own high quality goats. Then we mobilized our field staff to preform a full check on the new stock, to give them the go ahead. It's important for the farmers to do things for themselves and not have goats dropped off at their doorstep!

One of the biggest impacts has been in the lower caste communities in which we work. Many of the members have never owned their own animals, instead try too eek out a living working on other bigger farms. Now, they have constructed new sheds and are extremely proud of their new goats. Their status in society has received a major boost and all thanks to those of you who have sponsored VIVA Nepal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Women's Legal Rights Awareness

Compared to the urban areas, the women of rural Nepal have very little idea of how the constitution is meant to protect them. To increase their awareness, 2 members from each of the 16 groups of CLPSP joined together to partake in Women's Legal Rights training. Two professional female solicitors were hired to conduct the training aimed at empowering the women with the knowledge of their basic human rights as well as legal entitlements under Nepali law.

The topics were discussed openly among the participants and included the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), domestic violence, rape, prostitution, trafficking, torture and the right to property, loans and legal representation.

Each of the participants will bring the message home to their peers and disseminate the word throughout the local villages and communities. The women felt united together against discrimination and also a belief in themselves to stand up for each other.

VIVA Nepal aims to increase the socio economic status of impoverished subsistence farmers by training them with the skills they need, focusing on the women farmers who do 80% of the agricultural work in the country.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Six Seasons

According to the Nepali calender, this is the beginning of 2066 and a time of great celebrations. It's pre-monsoon and occasional showers provide some relief from the stifling heat and some much need moisture for the parched soil. Before the monsoon really kicks in, the rice or paddy will be sowed just like any other crop and when the rains pour down the paddy fields will flood and the country side will be a sea of green.

Come Sept/Oct, the most important festival of the year, Dasain, marks the beginning of the harvest season. Both the season and the festival last a long time, most of the work being done by hand. It also coincides with the start of the dry season.

Many parts of the country sow a second crop at this time, usually maize, wheat or millet, as the weather is very mild, much like an Irish summer without the rain. Some of the more fertile plains can manage up to 3 crops per year but many of the terraced paddy fields remain barren during the dry season owing to water shortages or distance from the homestead.

Following VIVA's research, it has been shown that livestock suffer from a nutritional deficit in the dry months due to the lack of green forage and fodder, which has a detrimental effect on milk yields. But the empty paddy fields are more than capable of sustaining temperate, drought resistant grasses during this time, and can replace the poor quality rice straw which is normally fed.

The groups have learned about basic animal nutrition to increase production, now we aim to show them how to cultivate their own feed. And bearing in mind that 2/3 crops per year can also deteriorate the quality of the soil, we have included a soil management component to the training- manure management, green manures, avoiding chemical fertilizers, soil conservation, etc. We begin on Monday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mule Doctors

Although I mainly work on the VIVA Nepal project, CLPSP, our partner NGO, AHTCS, runs four other projects which I assist whenever I can.

Over the last weekend I helped out with the Working Equine Welfare project, supported financially by the Brooke Hospital, UK. I travelled with Dr. Rupesh high into the Annapurna range to a place called Shikha, 2,000m. There we held a vaccination camp for the trains of mules that run through the mountains like blood through arteries, the chain of supply where there is little access for motor vehicles.

The equine owners are keen to improve the health status of their animals but until now the services have been unavailable.The project, the first of it's kind in Nepal and still in it's early stages, is showing encouraging results. Altogether we vaccinated 99 mules and 4 ponies against tetanus. It was set against the dramatic background of Mt. Dhaulaghiri, 8,167m, 7th highest in the world, and I must admit job satisfaction goes through the roof! I would have liked to have watched the Irish Grand Slam, but that was not an option.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shed Management Training

On the technical side of things, we have just completed the 2 day shed management training course in all 16 groups. The participants learned about basic concepts of drainage and ventilation, as well as floor space requirements. They learned about different types of housing and which is best suited to their situation. They also discussed what improvements could be made to their existing sheds.

The second day of training was spent in the field visiting other group members' homes and evaluating their goat and buffalo sheds. This included taking measurements, assessing drainage and air flow through the vents. Upon completion, they discussed their findings and compared them to the "Ideal Shed", of which VIVA has funded one in each group. This is the perfect design on which their own sheds should be based.

An interesting thing to come across was how many cases there have been of leopards taking goats from their sheds during the night. This was borne into the design of the Ideal Shed. Our field staff got their first taste of training a big group on their own and it proved a great experience and confidence booster.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gender Awareness

As in the majority of countries around the world, particularly the Global South, it is women who are most involved in food production. In Nepal, 80% of all agricultural work is done by the women of the family. This, along with the preparation of the food, rearing the children and running the household is very demanding. So, from field to fork, it is the women that feed the nation. But in a male dominated world, women rarely get chance to voice their opinions and in a lot of cases, possibly owing to the Hindu culture, they just passively accept their place in the background.

The CLPSP project has a strong social component to its training. As well as empowering women with technical education, through our recent Gender Awareness Training, all the women's groups discussed their role in society. We aimed to help them see just how important a role they play, but this was to happen through self realization. These trainings are inclusive of all castes in the community.

To be robbed of an identity through poverty is a most degrading feeling. We hope to give these women back the recognition they deserve.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In search of the Mighty Boer

In Nepal, goat meat or mutton is the most common form of red meat, seeing as beef is off limits. The dairy goat industry is relatively non existant and meat goats predominate. The local breeds of goat are hardy creatures but not very productive in terms of feed conversion. One of the aims of our project is to improve the standard goat by crossing with improved breeds, inreasing the productivity of the livestock and ultimately the income of the farmer.

To do this VIVA Nepal needs good quality goats and especially breeding bucks. The Boer goat, originating from South Africa, is the gold standard in goat meat production and we have been trying to locate bucks in Nepal that have some boer lineage. But this is proving to be both difficult and it includes alot of trekking!

Our thinking now is, if we can't find them - breed them! We hope to purchase a pure bred Boer buck and cross him with local does to produce a hardy cross, suitable for the mountains of Nepal. Now all we have to do is find him!!!!!!

Log on to to see if you can help VIVA Nepal.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Holy Cow

In Hindu culture, the Cow is as sacred as many a God and it used to be a punishible offence to kill one, by accident or not. This must be the reason why farmers have strayed from the common cow as a major livestock animal and instead, uses the Water Buffalo.

Now she is a much bigger animal, similar to a hearty angus cow with much more distinctive features, compared to the rather diminuative stature of the local cow- You'd see bigger weanlings! She produces more milk and the average Hindu isn't as perturbed about eating her "buff" meat and using her hide. Although, the higher Brahmin, or priest caste would beg to differ.

But people still milk the local breed of cow here, giving 1-2L of milk a day at peak lactation, but what on earth becomes of the male calves if you can't eat them? Well bull calves are castrated early in life and VIVA is promoting more modern techniques of this practice. Then, twice a year they are woken from their slumber to plow the fields after the harvest. They can also pull carts. I've seen 12/14yr old bullocks knocking about. But for others, they lead a life like an unwanted child, roaming the streets of towns and cities (mainly round abouts) begging for leftovers, carrying their wounds and scars. From an Irish perspective, all I can think is that they could start a new career abroad as beef animals!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Power Problem

On arriving back from Ireland after a great Christmas break, I heard nasty rumours of 16 hour power cuts which suddenly became very real. Now power shortages are quite common in Nepal, but never have they been of this scale before. Last's years' monsoon was light in it's rainfall and left the water levels in the hydro-electric dams very low. This is the reason most cited by politicians.

But in a country with the second richest natural water resources in the world, one can't help but think that mismanagement is a major root of the problem. Also, other hear say will lead you to believe that Nepal exports electricity to India even in the face of a deficit. But who benefits? Others say that Nepal has lost power lines that import this vital necessity from India.

One thing is for certain, without basic infastructure and facilities, which have already caused the closure of many businesses, development will be slow to arrive in Nepal. 4 hours of effective electricity a day really made me appreciate how lucky we are in Ireland, but also fills me with an urge to solve this crippling problem.

Light has yet to be shed on the full story of Nepal's power shortage, and for the moment we will remain in the dark.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

As per the project agreement, we are required to hold a biannual Central Level Advisory Committee meeting. This committe is to be made up of Government representatives from each of:

  • Social Welfare Council; Raju Jose
  • Ministry of Agriculture; S.K. Adikhari
  • Min of Local Development; Nara Hari Baral
  • National Planning Commission; T.P. Panthi
  • Min of Women, Children & Social Welfare; Nirma Karkhi
  • AHTCS Representative; Dr. Resham Acharya
  • VIVA Nepal Representative; Ciarán Göbl

Now trying to find all of these people and their phone numbers was not an easy task, especially when you speak a poor version of the Nepali language and suffer from hours of power cuts, but I managed it and the meeting was organized for friday last, Dec 5th.

I wasn't sure what to expect and I must admit I thought it was a beureaucratic exercise and a break to lovely Pokhara for them. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the constructive criticisms and active input from each member. They left with a very good image of VIVA Nepal and we came away with some very useful contacts!