“We now harvest only one quintal of wheat in the same area where we used to harvest two quintals,” said Hari of ward no 4, Dandaphaya Village Development Committee, Humla district. He continued to add to my limited knowledge of the real impact of global warming and climate change on people living up in the Himalayas, by narrating his personal experiences. He said during his grandfather’s days they used to have snow up to nine feet, during his growing up days they used to have snow up to three to five feet but now, it was less than three feet.
As a layperson, I thought that this must have made life easier for them as they would have less difficulty moving around. Hari smiled and mentioned that although the heat had increased and the snow level had gone down, it actually had an adverse effect on their livelihood and lifestyle. At that altitude, cold weather conditions are far more suitable for agriculture and harvesting.
The main crops they grow there was wheat, potato, chuli, dhatelo, khamu, and okhar. While earlier they also grew Phapar (buckwheat), now it was getting increasingly difficult to do so. In fact, the production of all crops had decreased and the size of the potato had become smaller. Chuli, dhatelo, khamu, okhar were grown for their nutritional value and the oil from these products would be enough for the entire village. The oil would further be sold off to Simkot, headquarters of Humla district, for Rs 50 per liter. However, as the production of these had drastically gone down, they were forced to buy ‘Dhara’ brand oil from Simkot at Rs 300 per liter.
Dandaphaya VDC of Humla District is at an altitude of around 3,500.00 meters above sea level, up in the Himalayas. During a visit to this VDC recently, the dominant community there were the dalits, including sunar, kami, and bisworkarma. The government has categorized the population into four types based on food sufficiency—the Ka, with people who have less than three months of food sufficiency; the KHa with those who have food sufficiency for up to three to six months, Ga with six to one year of food sufficiency and GHa with those who have more than one year’s food sufficiency. The people I met at the Dandaphaya VDC all belonged to the Ka category. They have only one harvest per year of wheat or phapar (buckwheat), potato, jau, kodo, peaches, apple, chuli, and herbs including attis, satuwa, padam and chalu.
Government should bring programs to make remote districts like Humla self-sufficient rather than dependent on outside sources.
The villagers informed me this VDC would earlier be covered with snow for about eight months a year, but now it was covered with snow for barely six months. Their forefathers had been healthier as compared to them, although awareness about cleanliness and distribution of important medicines had grown. They attributed their forefathers’ better health to a diet of crops like phapar and kodo, which had high nutritional values. Now, however, villagers have started to emulate the urban lifestyle and eat polished white rice, which is not grown in Humla. The UN World Food Program started distributing white rice as part of the food for work program and consequently, the people developed the habit of eating rice. In the lower altitude areas of Humla, a special type of red rice is grown, which again has a high nutritional value. Instead of distributing white rice flown in from elsewhere, it would have made more sense to enable people to grow more red rice, wheat and buckwheat that would be more nutritional and suitable for the local population.
Humla district is one of the remotest districts of Karnali zone in mid-west development region with its district headquarter at Simikot. Politically, Humla is divided into 27 Village Development Committees (VDCs). The district, with a population of 40,595 with around 6,974 households, is known to face acute food deficiency now and then. The white rice supplied to the district by the government is distributed to local inhabitants at a subsidized rate. However, it is hardly ever enough, is more costly and cannot be grown locally.
While introducing food in a district like Humla, where the only mode of transportation is either by foot or by air, from places like Nepalgunj and Surkhet, it would be far more appropriate to introduce crops which can be grown there. Shouldn’t the government have a policy of introducing projects and schemes which make rural, remote districts like Humla self-sufficient rather than dependent on outside sources?
An international conference of mountain countries on climate change was held in Kathmandu in the month of April earlier this year in order to evolve a consensus among the countries to work together to meet the challenges posed by climate change. If policies are being formulated to tackle the impact of climate change in the mountains, it should not only look to address the direct impact of weather and climatic conditions but also into government and multilateral policies which might have contributed to food deficiency. The focus should be to understand the local culture and tradition as well as viability and to move towards self sufficiency rather than external dependence.
The author is editor of Nariswor
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