Roping Change

With investments running in billons of rupees annually, Village Development Committees and District Development Committees are building roads haphazardly in rural areas, aiming to transform the life of the people.

April 14, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 06 No. -20 Apr.12- 2013 (Chitra 30, 2069)

Instead of bringing change, these environmentally unfriendly roads have added burden and wrought devastation in some rural areas. Recent experiences of Gorkha and Tanahu show that the ropeways can transform the rural life with relatively smaller investment. With support from the European Union, the ropeways constructed by the Practical Action has changed the life of rural folks.

The life of 32-year Panmanya Chepang used to be difficult despite her constant striving to overcome poverty. From sending her husband to Saudi Arabia for six years, to planting vegetables, she made many efforts to make her life easier. Her situation had not changed until the installation of a ropeway nearby. The ropeway eventually became a savior for the entire Chepang community.  Along with the support for the ropeway, Practical Action provided the people with technical support to modernize agriculture.

“Now, we are making more money from vegetable farming than my husband used to send home from Saudi Arabia. We actually make a lot of money by working together here in the village,” says Panmaya. Most villagers of Hukilung, in Gorkha district, are Chepangs, who live below the absolute poverty line.

Although Hukilung village is only 500 meters from the Prithivi Highway, one of the major highways of Nepal linking capital Kathmandu with the rest of country, it had remained far away from the mainstream society until a few years ago. There was no road to connect the village at the top of the hill to the highway along the opposite bank of the Trishuli river, and no bridge to cross the river. People from the village used to walk for several hours to reach the highway. Even if the road was constructed, it would be costlier as well as environmentally unfriendly.

Everything is so different in the village now. Under the Access for Opportunities, an EU funded project, the Chepang community installed a gravity ropeway in 2009 and an improved tow-in in 2011 to transport goods and to cross over the river respectively.  Practical Action launched the Project in 2007 with the objective of improving the socio-economic situation of 14,838 marginalized households in Achham, Kalikot, Tanahu and Gorkha districts.

The project focused on improving the transport services such as by way of installation of gravity ropeways and tow-ins to enhance people’s mobility and access to essential service such as health, education and water, and to increase their interactions with external communities and markets. The project also aimed at increasing and diversifying income generation activities through improved production, processing and marketing of farm products.

Following installation of the ropeways, the Practical Action undertook complementary activities to improve living conditions in the village. These included product diversification, training for farmers and micro irrigation.

“The village began to thrive as never before. A few weeks ago, I visited the village and my chest swelled with pride to see the change,” said Rabindra Bahadur Singh, project manager of Practical Action.

The farmers shared similar views. “We used to grow very little food, not even enough for 2-3 months. The rest of the year we lived on forest roots and tubers. Some of us used to work in Fishling Bazaar as porters to support our families and some worked overseas in India and Arabian countries,” says Ratna Chepang, the Chairperson of the Jalapa Devi Agriculture Cooperative, formed with the help of the project.   “From this project, we received improved seeds, micro irrigation technologies and new farming skills. Most importantly, we got the ropeway for transporting our goods to market. Now, we are producing surplus crops and each household earns NPR 120,000 ($ 1380) per annum from selling vegetables.”

With the installation of ropeways and technical support to grow the vegetables, the village is see its residents nearly double their income. “This has triggered marked improvements in the living conditions of the 56 Chepang households in the village,” said Singh, project manager. “The change is not only confined to income, it also has changed the status of children in health, education and hygiene.  Before the project, for example, the attendance rate was low and the children’s hygiene was poor.”

This is not a single village making such a progress.  Devisthan of Gorkha is another village where villagers are making a good income from selling vegetables and saving enough money.

“This model village now showcases what marginalized communities can achieve if they have access to right skills and technologies. The communities deserves all the praise for taking responsibility for changing their lives and working hard for it. Practical Action is proud to provide a helping hand to their journey to prosperity,” said Singh

Ropeways are regarded as the best transport for Nepal. “Simple rope-ways, as there are in the Swiss Alps, in an abundant number to connect single small valley villages and high pastures and forests, seem also to be of great value for opening up the country,” late Toni Hagen, renowned Swiss development expert wrote in his report presented in July 1959 to the government of Nepal. This seems still valid.

Others too agree.  “Ropeways are a mountain-friendly technology: they are three times cheaper and eight times quicker to build while being twice as energy efficient and equivalent to ‘green road’ (in terms of Mega Joules/ton transported). Moreover, they do not emit greenhouse gases. Unlike badly built roads, especially through current “dozer politics” in the districts, they also do not induce landslides and environmental damage,” said Dipak Gyawali, chairman of Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, in a recently organized Toni Hagen Memorial Symposium.

“Gaon-Besi short haul goods carrying ropeways have also shown that they can make Nepal’s micro-hydro installations a profitable money-spinner if attached to a ropeway that carries goods up and down the mountains from sunrise to sunset: in such cases, electricity for lighting village house in the evening can then be provided next to free as social goods! Hydro developers have also found that temporary constructions on ropeways are cheaper and environmentally friendlier than building access roads through government forests. Yet this is a transport technology that, despite an early start in 1924 during Chandra Sumshere’s rule, has seen its development myopically arrested in Nepal. It is a tragedy that needs reversing if Nepal’s development is to move towards a cleaner, sane “green development”, if Nepal’s marginal farmers in the deep hinterlands are to have access to the market where they can sell their products and improve their livelihoods, and if Nepal can stop the perpetual hemorrhaging of its precious foreign exchange earnings with petroleum import,” said Gyawali.

At a time when villagers are considering the construction of road or using the bulldozers to cut the unstable mountains as a symbol of all round development, the installation of gravity rope ways will also help change the mindset.  With the support from European Union, Practical Action, has already proved that ropeways can be a sustainable model for the transformation of rural life.

The villagers of Devisthan Village Development Committee of Gorkha district have seen an unimaginable scale of transformation in their village in just a couple of years. At a time when some villagers, who spent huge amount of money to construct the rural roads, are suffering devastating consequences of landslides along the roads, villagers in Devisthan have been enjoying the fruits of environmental friendly and low cost gravity rope way.

Adjoining the Prithvi Highway, the villagers used to sacrifice almost full days to fetch agriculture products up to the point. However, the installation of ropeway saved their entire days.  Kaji B.K., a dalit of   Devisthan, has seen a complete transformation in his life as well as in village following the installation of the ropeway. Although Prithvi Highway passed through nearby mountains for decades, the villagers had to wait for a long time before really maximizing the economic benefits out of it.

Unlike Tanahu and Gorkha, which are close to transport link, the story of remote districts of Kalikot and Achham is different. The two-ins helped to increase the safe mobility of the people but the access to markets in these districts are poor.

Despite huge potential to grow various kinds of vegetables with easily available market nearby, small landholders in Devisthan did not have affordable transport means. However, the construction of ropeway four years ago has drastically changed their income and livelihood.

With the total investment of approximately Rs. 1.6 million in installation cost, the ropeway can increase income by ten times.  “I have a very little land. Thus, I leased the land and planted tomatoes with an investment of Rs.13000 (US$ 150) initially. Thanks to good harvest, I am able to make a net profit of over Rs.300,000.00 (US$ 3000),” said a farmer. 

Life is difficult for families living in remote and mountainous areas. Getting crops to market can be exhausting and dangerous – it is generally mules, women and children who carry these heavy loads on their backs, down treacherous, winding dirt tracks. When it rains, or there’s a landslide, it’s completely impossible.

It could take two people over three hours to carry a 120kg load of apples 1.3 km down a steep mountain path – and that’s just the first part of the grueling journey to market. Now, with a gravity ropeway, the apples take less than five minutes to cover the same distance. Depending solely on gravitational force – and using no external power – gravity ropeways are simple, inexpensive to operate, and environmentally friendly.

“It's such a simple solution to the isolation endured by so many poor Nepalese families. The main components of the ropeway are sourced locally and our project staff train local manufacturers to build the parts. We show the village group taking responsibility for the ropeway how to maintain it. A small charge to each user ensures enough money to keep the ropeway in good condition while also paying for two operators to manage the top and bottom stations safely,” said Singh.

The ropeway means people can get more produce to market from their mountain villages. And because it gets there quicker, it's fresher and earns them more. They have more time to tend their crops, more money to buy fuel for cooking and heating, and can even pay for education and healthcare. Technology really is making a remarkable difference to their lives.

In 2007, Practical Action launched the Access for Opportunities, Nepal,  project, with the objective to improve the socio-economic situation of 8,000 marginalized households in Achham, Kalikot, Tanahu and Gorkha districts of Nepal. During its five-year period, the project designed and delivered 15 gravity goods ropeways and 18 improved tow-ins to enhance peoples’ mobility and access to other essential services. Along with installing the ropeway, the project also helped to develop the capacity of local communities, who were then mobilized to install improved tow-ins and ropeways.

“There is a growing demand for Nepal’s successful model in the region. Practical Action is now providing technical support in hill tracts of Bangladesh, Northeastern state of India and Bhutan,” said Singh.

Practical Action’s experiences demonstrate that the complementary transport such as the ropeways and tuins are the most appropriate technologies for Nepal to satisfy the rural people’s immediate access needs. However, this needs to be replicated at mass levels to have greater implications. 

Nepal’s geography plays a fundamental part in the way human and material resources can be mobilized.  The constraints arising from these natural process on modern development in Nepal are various and critical.  Practical Action has showed the way to address the poverty by increasing income through the intervention in transportation and agriculture.

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