After working with the Agriculture Development Bank for 28 years in various capacities till 1990, SHRI KRISHNA UPADHYAY, Executive Chairman of SAPPROS-Nepal, set out to do something for the uplift of the poor populace in Nepal. As its Chairman cum General Manager, Upadhyay successfully implemented the Small Farmers Development Project, eventually establishing it as a major institution for rural development. But then he also found something was amiss. He realized that although the efforts from the government’s bureaucratic structures gave some positive results, they were not enough. The external pressure to disburse funds without preparations at the grassroots level had resulted in over dependency on external resources. This prompted Upadhyay, laureate- The Right Livelihood Award 2010, and his colleagues to establish Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal (SAPPROS-Nepal), a non-profit organization. Upadhyay is well known in Nepal’s development sector as well as international level after receiving honoured with the Right Livelihood Award-2010 known as the “Alternative Nobel”, for fighting against poverty in the country. This is the first international recognition for a Nepalese working in the sector of the livelihood for the poor. The award is shared with human rights and environmental activists from Nigeria, Brazil and Israel. As Nepal’s recently concluded Living Standards Survey 2011 revealed Nepal’s drastic progress in poverty reduction, UPADHYAY spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on various issues. Excerpts:
You have been working for the improvement of livelihood of the rural poor for a long time. You have seen the changes made in their lives by way of intervention from various agencies in different pockets. Don’t you think the time has come now to change the modality?
The latest Nepal Living Standards Survey showed that high growth of remittance is the major contributing factor behind the drastic reduction in the level of poverty. Despite such a reduction, there are several poverty pockets in remote parts of Nepal - which don’t have access to transportation and are yet to see improvements – like Mugu district. However, these remote areas have enormous potentialities. For instance, Mugu people are growing off-season vegetables and other products. However, the production does not even meet the local demand. There are still problems of food insecurity and malnutrition. We are now supplying the rice imported from plains. If we encourage farmers, we can produce vegetables and fruits. I mean we need to concentrate our programs in such pockets of mid-west, far west and some districts in terai, selecting them in terms of low income. If we provide them technologies as per their wishes, we can increase their production. By selling these products at local markets and outside, they will have a chance to increase income as well as improve nutrition and food security situation. The time has come to concentrate more on rural and remote parts of Nepal.
What potentials do you see in district like Mugu?
In remote parts of Nepal like Mugu, tourism is important for people’s income and markets. We can send a lot of tourists in new areas like in the far west. Many people say the far west is a frontier of tourism because many natural places are yet to be sold to the global market. Recently, lots of infrastructures have been under construction, including roads and airports in the far west region. By taking tourism as a potential sector, why should we not develop pocket areas in the far west? We need to develop micro projects like irrigation, water supply, micro-hydro, and natural cold storage like cellar storage. We have been working on poverty pocket area development in remote areas where we need to introduce all kinds of technologies in package form.
How do you see the role of NGOs?
NGOs should not carry all these elements. If the government constructs a road, NGOs do not need to do so. NGOs can build gravity ropeways in the areas inaccessible by roads. Similarly, NGOs can support construction of storage where it is needed. For instance, we are building a natural cold storage for vegetables and apples. In irrigation sector, we can promote a micro-irrigation scheme like water storage, sprinkler, and drip irrigation. There is an advantage for us as the government does not have any major projects in the micro-irrigation sector. I see the role of civil society is important in this sector. In addition NGOs can provide technical support for increasing agricultural productivity.
In the context of climate change, what do you suggest?
The temperature is shifting as the Himalayas are getting warmer. We have to introduce crops to suit the warmer climate. SAPPROS has already designed and tested suitable designs of solar green houses with partial plastic covers in the inaccessible Himalayan areas like Mugu district for promoting vegetable year round.
What new ideas are you implementing now?
We are now working to integrate the vegetables with poultry. In Dolpa, the price of a chicken is Rs. 2000 and the price of an egg is Rs. 25. If farmers produce chicken, their products have enough local market. Even if we promote tourists, they too require food. Along with vegetables, people need protein as well.
Why do you prefer chicken?
You cannot transport cows or chicken by plane due to difficulty in transportation. This is the reason SAPPROS has already introduced incubator machines in such rural areas to hatch the chicken. You can produce 600 chickens a month. A poor farmer can generate Rs. 10,000 by keeping 10 chickens. There is the need to tap the technology. If we support poultry, it will help to increase nutrition as well as increase farmers’ income. Farmers can even use wastes of chicken as manure in green houses. They complement fertilizers. There is the need to come up with composite packages with all facilities. There is a lot of scope in this and ways to do that are easy.
How competent are NGOs to work on this?
In terms of competence, there are a very few NGOs working in such remote parts of Nepal. There is the need to make combined efforts. The combination between the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF), which provides money directly to the community to launch such activities and NGOs, which provide technical support, will be ideal. There is now Rs. 5.4 billion revolving fund with the PAF community organisations. If NGOs can provide the technical supports, there is a possibility to recycle the fund and increase farmers income.
But, there are also micro-credit institutions. How do you look at them?
Frankly speaking, no micro-credit organization reaches such remote parts of Nepal. However, PAF has been supporting infrastructure as well as providing money for income generating activities. You can do a lot of expanded activities through the funds. The idea behind this is that first it supports the enterprise of a poor farmer. Later, the poor himself expands it in case of its viability. If there is an increase in the income, the savings will increase. If we support one green house, farmers can add another four.
How do you view the recent trend of NGOs working near the road areas, implementing activities related to poverty alleviation?
It is not a work of NGO to launch activities in accessible areas alone. The private sector can do this. Once you demonstrate a good work in one area, another will carry on it, unless there is change in technology. After successfully demonstrating a good work, NGOs do not need to get involved in it again. Farmers will replicate it in different areas. If you support farmers to make a green house, he or she will add another four.
In the context of growing income and growth of consumption of items like meats and vegetables as revealed by the recently released Nepal Living Standards Survey, what do you suggest?
Once income increases, the people will go for high quality food. There is the need to increase the production. In accessible areas, the people can even build roads, because there is the opportunity to increase the income. However, this is impossible in the rural remote parts of Nepal like Mugu where the food produced by the farmers is not even enough to feed people for three months.
How do you see the possibility of sustaining agricultural growth by supplying hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers in areas like Mugu?
Mugu is an organic area by default. You cannot fetch chemical fertilizer by airways. Thus, there is the need to encourage local manure. There are local beans also. We are also encouraging the local seed bank. In districts like Mugu and Jumla, there is the availability of high quality rice. There is the need of technologies to increase the yield. We are promoting Single Rice Intensification Technology (SRI), which can at least double the yield. My opinion is that we shouldn’t think about every process in terms of marketing. My suggestion is to produce quality food. By going organic, farmers in districts like Mugu can increase production at reduced cost.
How do you see the micro-credit model applied in Nepal and the question of ownership?
When Agricultural Development Bank introduced the project for small farmers, They named it the Small Farmers Development Project, not a small farmer micro-credit project. The SFDP included projects in infrastructure and organization development. It was implemented by building linkages with other organisation. SFDP developed small farmer cooperatives which set up their own federated organization called Small Farmer Development Bank which was entirely owned by them. This is a system where all the small farmers have ownership. As an NGO, if we set up a bank externally, the locals will not contribute and the feeling of ownership. If the local people own the system the information asymmetry which is often the problem with external lenders can be avoided will not be there.
How do you see the cooperatives in the present context?
The cooperative movement has not come in isolation, it came along with the community movement. The case of community forestry users group is unique as it has 12 million membership, managing almost 1.5 million hectares of forest. Similarly, there are several thousand groups in water supply systems and irrigation. Development will be less costly in case of involvement of the people. Our experiences have shown that people are more efficient than what one can think in every area. If you provide small amounts to poor, they can maximize the impact of fund. If they use improved technology and infrastructure, the return will increase by many folds.
How does SAPPROS work in the rural areas?
SAPPROS does not give money but what it gives is appropriate technology and infrastructure support. We work with the community and we target them. Fed up with the shifting priorities of donor countries, particularly as they insisted on more emphasis on management of credit operations and less on developmental aspects and visiting small producers, artisans and wage earners, SAPPROS-Nepal realized that farmers not only needed financial assistance, but also technology, access to markets and above all, capacity building to manage local resources.
Many criticize the WFP’s Food Program as a tool to make farmers rely on others for food. How does SAPPROS look at this?
I don’t agree with this. How can a poor survive without feeding his family round the year. In a region where the local production cannot meet their requirements for more than three months a year, WFP food program can be used to improve the food security situation in that district in the long run. We are using the food as an input; we supply food to construct irrigation projects, storage, micro-hydro and road. In Bajura district, we are using the WFP’s food for development works. We should not romanticize development. Everybody can go and work in accessible areas, but there is the need to go to remote areas. WFP provided of about Rs. 15.25 million in supporting to plantation of walnut, apple, orange and lemon and productive infrastructure like irrigation and 1478 Mt. of rice and lentil. We mobilized around Rs. 50 million from other sources. We need to go with focus, where we can bring drastic changes in four to five years.
As Nepal has made a drastic change in poverty alleviation in the last two decades, what do the organizations like SAPPROS need to do in the coming decades?
The present rate improvement in poverty was measured by taking the minimum level of calories or just 2200 calories or Rs. 14,000 per capita income. This is very basic. I think the time has come to change the model. In this context, I suggest for a composite model. I don’t think we need to be jubilant or disappointed. Last year, the Oxford Multi Poverty Index already challenged the present success. Our country has a prevalence of high level of malnutrition particularly at the children’s level. There is a generational inequity. We need to tackle nutritional issues which are related to income as well as nutrition. There is the need to generate awareness about the nutritional issues and support for food security and nutrition improvement.
How has SAPPROS been working?
We work together with different organizations. We have already improved 500 schools through UNICEF and WFP support and completed 25 micro-hydro projects and 20 others are under construction ranging from 20 to 100 kilowatts. We are not doing it alone as the micro hydro project is supported by Alternative Energy Support Program and rice from WFP. I am happy that all kinds of institutions and local communities are involved in this.
What projects do you see as successful?
Community managed projects are always successful. For instance, the project run under the PAF gets completed in a year. We have even completed several projects within five to six months, with support from WFP and PAF. There is immense energy at the community level. The cost of road, and irrigation projects constructed with the participation of local community is much lower. Here comes the question of why local bodies failed to spend Rs. 30 billion as the capital expenditure. We are spending almost one hundred percent in the capital expenditure but the local bodies are unable to spend them. It is the mobilization of local community and energy, which make everything possible.
Where is the focus of SAPPROS?
We are now working in remote areas of Mugu, Bajhang, Bajura, Dolpa, Jumla and Humla. Except Kalikot, SAPPROS has been working in different areas. We constructed 16 green houses a year before but there were 120 green houses constructed last year.