Harvesting equality in Nepal: FCA & partners talk climate resilient development at major UN gathering on gender equality

Harvesting equality in Nepal: FCA & partners talk climate resilient development at CSW

At the 68th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68), the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, FCA and Nepali partners discussed the effects of climate change on women while sharing practical solutions.

Gender agenda for women in Nepal

CLIMATE CHANGE and environmental protection form a strategically important gender agenda for women in Nepal now and in the future.

The FCA event took place during the UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women.

On March 12, 2024, experts gathered in New York during the UN’s event on gender quality. FCA hosted an event, co-sponsored by Finland that focused on how to mitigate the effects of climate change on Nepali women farmers, while remaining gender responsive and supporting economic empowerment.

The event drew on experiences from the GRAPE project in Nepal, a climate-resilient agriculture programme that FCA works on with main implementer, German development agency, GiZ.

Laura Rissanen, the State Secretary to the Minister of Social Security of Finland, opened the session by describing FCA’s work with Nepalis and how grassroots approaches and inclusion of women and girls is when climate action can make an impactful difference.

Ms Rissanen also highlighted that 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of Finland/Nepal diplomatic relations.

State Secretary Laura Rissanen opened the event

Shikha Shrestha from VSO Nepal emphasised that time and again, women’s voices are not heard.

Shikha Shrestha underlined that women must be involved in disaster relief.

“Women are always being engaged in agriculture & our knowledge & expertise is not considered. We need to consider holistic approach & have voices of women making the plan for disaster relief.”

The vivid panel discussion touched on the topic from various entry points with examples from mountainous indigenous women realities on the ground as well as experiences shared by women from marginalized communities, complemented by findings from recent research on how actually climate financing has remain very thin.

Yasso Kanti from the National Indigenous Women Forum narrated from firsthand experience the challenges and triumphs faced by indigenous women in their pursuit of equitable participation in agricultural endeavors amidst the ever-evolving climate landscape.

“There needs to be concrete recognition & action to putting indigenous peoples contributions at the forefront because indigenous people, especially women and girls, are mostly affected by land and climate induced conflicts,” she said.

Watch how climate change is threatening women farmers in Nepal

The panel also included DanChurchAid‘s Senior Advisor in Gender Equality, Kira Ugaz-Simonsen and youth climate activist, Tashi Lhazom, who joined remotely.

“Climate Change impacts everyone, but not equally. Key is the decentralization in power & resources. In most cases, it’s not an issue for women to speak out but for women to be listened to,” she contributed via remote link.

Youth climate activist, Tashi Lhazom joined the panel remotely

Targeted actions to mitigate the effects of climate change on women and gender equality remains extremely low whist there are growing needs to finance mitigation measures to women farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs on climate change effects and prevention of further damage.   

While the challenges of the Nepali women remain complex with deeply rooted gender stereotypes and practices, the discussion proved commitment and true trust for the better future as long as women’s agricultural role and potential is truly recognised and nurtured.

Panel biographies

A woman in black stands behind a chair looking at the camera with a serene smile.

Laura Rissanen

Laura Rissanen has served as State Secretary to the Minister of Social Security since June 2023 and is responsible for EU and international affairs that fall within the Minister’s area of responsibility, and matters related to gender equality, occupational safety and health, and farm relief services. Rissanen has over twenty years of experience in policymaking, ranging from municipality decision-making to the European Parliament.

A woman in a kimono wearing glasses looks at the camera while smiling

Tashi Lhazom

Tashi Lhazom is a prominent climate activist working at the intersection of climate action, gender equality, indigenous rights, and political literacy. She has spoken at grassroots, national, and global platforms. Tashi is a Co-Founder of two civil society initiatives, is a researcher and filmmaker, using storytelling to bring awareness to critical climate challenges in the Himalayan region.

A smiling woman wearing a patterned jacket and colorful beads looks at the camera. She has a red bindi on her forehead.

Yasso Kanti Bhattachan

Yasso Kanti Bhattachan presently holds the position of Vice-Chairperson at the National Indigenous Women Forum. She is an esteemed figure known for her pivotal role as an advocate, researcher and leader for Indigenous Women’s Rights. Yasso is one of the founding members and advisor at the National Indigenous Women Federation and a Regional Council member of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), and the South Asia Focal Person of the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN).  

A woman in a pink top wearing wooden beads looks straight at the camera

Kira-Ugaz Simonsen

Kira Ugaz-Simonsen is a Senior Advisor in Gender Equality at DanChurchAid, based in the head office in Copenhagen. Kira has more than 10 years’ experience working with gender responsiveness in development programming, both as a gender specialist and independent consultant, with experience from a broad range of countries. She has previously lived and worked with gender issues in Mozambique for close to five years and have prior to that, worked for UN Women in Bolivia.

A woman in a black jacket looks smiling at the camera

Shikha Shrestha

Shikha Shrestha has more than 25 years of experiences on gender equality and social inclusion, feminist leadership, and good governance. Currently working with VSO Nepal as Country Project Implementation Lead, she completed her masters in forest ecology that helps her to understand agenda of climate change both from gender and ecological perspectives. Shikha has been actively engaged in promoting gender agenda in climate change actions and systematizing efforts of harmful social norms transformation for promoting gender equality and empowerment of marginalized communities.

In Nepal, climate resilience starts with society

In Nepal, climate resilience starts with society

FCA Nepal has joined an ambitious new programme promoting climate resilient agriculture in Nepal with a whole-society approach.

AGRICULTURE IS a big part of Nepal. Children like me, who grew up in the eighties and nineties were familiar with the phrase in our textbooks that we are a ‘nation of agriculture’.  
In those days, 90 % of our population tapped into agriculture as their main source of income, according to 1995’s ‘Nepal Agricultural Perspective Plan‘. These days it’s more like 62% according to the National Agricultural Census 2021-22.  
Agriculture is still the lifeblood of the nation, but it is affected by two major trends; one is the phenomenon of male Nepalis going abroad to earn better wages and the other is climate change, by which we see uneven rain patterns and unpredictable and more extreme weather.  
Both trends have the effect that often women are left bearing the burden for farming, on top of family responsibilities.

Nepal is extremely vulnerable to climate-related damage, such as soil erosion. Photo: Monika Deupala/FCA

Nepal’s climate vulnerability

According to the World Bank, Nepal is susceptible to geological and climate-related disasters, due to its geography and social vulnerability. Increases in soil erosion, landslides, flash floods and droughts – all which climate change drives – especially effect its agricultural sector. Poor rural people, who rely on farming for survival have the most to lose.

FCA Nepal has joined an ambitious new project in partnership with GiZ amongst others, and with funding from the EU and Finnish and German governments, to promote Climate Resilient Agriculture (CRA). Briefly explained, CRA is the ability of any agricultural system to anticipate and prepare for extreme weather and climate change, as well as adapt to, absorb and recover from it. This can be through new techniques and innovations, but also as simple as ancient arts like crop rotation.

The GRAPE programme

The project, known as the Green Resilient Agricultural Productive Ecosystems (GRAPE) programme, helps farmers, cooperations and small business build their climate resiliency in a sustainable way – both environmentally and financially.  

While that means training on agricultural practices, it also means supporting municipalities in integrating climate change into their planning and assisting with information roll-out to the entire region.  

Climate Resilient Agriculture is not a common term in Nepal, and we knew that our first step needed to be that of connecting with people, not immediately implementing change. Too many climate response initiatives fail, because they rely too heavily on specialised technology, often brought from outside. We recognised that to change the habits of generations of farmers, we needed a whole society approach.  

A group of people sit around a circular table in a small office, talking and laughing.
Participants in our media training course on Climate Resilient Agriculture conduct a group session.

Spreading the message

That’s why we started a media training programme targeting journalists in Sudurpaschim and Karnali provinces. While reporters may seem a strange first audience for our project, most of them are closely intertwined with the agricultural community and their stories and already regularly report on the effects of climate change in their areas.  

A smiling woman holds up a certificate, while standing in front of a banner that reads "Climate Resilient Agriculture media training".
Belumaya Mahatara is a journalist from the remote Humla district. She participated in FCA Nepal’s Climate Resilient Agriculture media training course.

With low literacy levels in the regions, many farmers rely on radio news for their information, so the ability of broadcasters to understand, explain and be excited about the project was key. 32 journalists from various media platforms joined the training with 14 of them receiving an FCA fellowship to continue their support and training on Climate Resilient Agriculture. 
Additionally, seven stories both national and local were published about Climate Resilient Agriculture during the training and three more were published later thanks in part to our training.

Engaging civil society

Our next stop was to bring together the widest and most inclusive group of people to form a community of practice, a group that could engage deeply on the topic, raise concerns, share best practices, and find important common ground in moving forward.  

We brought together more than 50 civil society organisations including Heifer International Nepal, Plan International Nepal, Save the Children Nepal, World Vision International, Oxfam, Welthungerhilfe and Helen Keller International, amongst others, as well as local NGOs LI-BIRD, CEAPRED and ANSAB.

These organisations meet every two months on the most pressing issues when it comes to climate-resilient and climate-related agriculture, including matters of governance and resourcing.  

The first of its kind in Nepal, the group now acts like a think tank, steering the direction of the conversation and maintaining the dialogue on how we achieve climate resiliency in our country.  

It’s important to us, because true resilience to climate change doesn’t just encompass agricultural dimensions, but also sociological ones. We’re determined that our project takes in the viewpoints of all affected members of society.

A woman stands at a lectern and talks into a microphone. Behind her a presentation shows her career background in Climate Resilient Agriculture.
An expert from Action Aid presenting about the crop management during the first half day event of our community of practice for Climate Resilient Agriculture.

Next steps

While continuing to support the ongoing discussion and training, we will also be acting on the lessons we learn putting together gender and disability responsive Climate Field Schools. These initiatives will support value chain producers from marginalised groups, while assisting agriculture and livestock technicians to reach out to these groups with real and practical help.  

We’ll also be supporting the production of easily understandable information materials, like infographics and radio shows, so that a wide as possible audience can benefit from proven techniques to make even the smallest of farms climate resistant.  

In this way, I hope that Nepalese textbooks continue to reflect our long history of agriculture in the future and its evolution, as it adapts and grows into a new climate reality.  

Anish Shrestha is a Communication Specialist at FCA Nepal, focusing on the GRAPE programme and Climate Resilient Agriculture. 

The GRAPE project is jointly funded by the European Union, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). 
Finn Church Aid (FCA) is Finland’s largest international organisation working for development and humanitarian assistance. FCA specialises in the world’s most fragile contexts and works with the most vulnerable people, within their priority areas.  

All photos, unless indicated: Anish Shrestha/FCA

Fly larvae help Nepalese women create innovative sustainable business  

Fly larvae help Nepalese women create innovative sustainable business  

FCA and Womens’ Bank BUZZ project in Nepal uses larvae from the Black Soldier Fly as alternative animal feed due to their high protein and fat content, as opposed to traditional feeds. This reduces solid waste by efficiently converting organic waste into animal feeds and organic fertilizer within the cycle of circular economy.

IN THE small village of Bhardeu in Nepal’s Lalitpur district, a building with a corrugated tin roof is abuzz with activity. Women crowd round small plastic trays, which are writhing with small larvae. One woman gently and carefully lifts a handful of the larvae in gloved hands. She doesn’t seem fazed by the wriggling grubs – in fact, these unassuming worm-like animals represent an exciting innovation in the working lives of these women. They’re a chance to turn waste into value.

“It’s such a new concept in Nepal,” says BUZZ project coordinator Nishi Khatun. “In the beginning, the women who saw our prototype larvae farm were a bit doubtful and sometimes frightened. But since training, they’re really confident with handling the larvae and find the process more convenient and beneficial from the farming they’re currently doing.”

Women gather round a man holding larvae at a demonstration of how black soldier fly larvae can be bred for animal feed in Nepal
Women observe a demonstration of how black soldier fly larvae can be bred for animal feed in Nepal

With funding from our sister organisation, Women’s Bank, and in partnership with the Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal (FWEAN), the project aims to provide employment to seven women, who are part of a farming cooperative in the village. All of them face social and economic marginalisation, with limited access to resources, job opportunities and influence within their community

The premise is simple: Black Soldier Fly larvae are raised in a special production facility feeding on organic waste. They then are used as feed for farmed animals and fish. The frass (excretion of larvae/fly) is used as organic fertilizers.

“The organic waste from the household and farming land is reused again and again for the larvae,” says FCA Climate and Environment Sustainability Advisor, Aly Cabrera. “It’s a really good initiative because it reduces land competition between food for human and for animal consumption.”

A close-up of the larvae feeding on organic waste

FCA set up the production facility and provides ongoing training to the women in both the technical skills needed to raise the larvae and the business development skills that will enable them to connect with customers and larger industries. In time, they won’t just be able to maintain their farms, but also sell surplus larvae and frass to others.  

That said, it’s a very new concept in Nepal and the benefits of using the larvae are not yet well understood by stakeholders in the agriculture, poultry and fisheries industries.

Other challenges include the delicate nature of the larvae themselves. The grubs are highly sensitive to temperature and humidity and getting the ambient conditions exactly right for them to thrive is crucial.

Despite this, the women in Bhardeu recently celebrated a milestone. The initial insects needed to establish a colony arrived from the western district of Chitwan and they were able to get to work after long months of training. The cooperative issued a statement in celebration:

“We are filled with hope that our dream of economic empowerment through engagement in the Black Soldier Fly business model will finally come true. We envision ourselves becoming successful entrepreneurs.”

The BUZZ project is thanks to a joint FCA and Women’s Bank initiative that develops circular economy projects to increase income opportunities & sustainable agricultural practices in order to improve community resilience.

Text: Deepika Naidu

EU and Finnish Ambassadors visit FCA projects in Nepal

​EU and Finnish Ambassadors visit FCA projects in Nepal

FCA hosted the Ambassadors of Finland and the EU to Nepal, during a trip to visit Nepal’s Far West. They visited free Kamaiya and Kamlaris (ex-bonded labourers) and witnessed progress made by the communities toward self- sufficiency and increased incomes.

AMBASSADOR OF FINLAND to Nepal, Ms Riina-Riika Heikka and Ambassador of the European Union to Nepal, Ms Nona Deprez, saw the varied activities ex-bonded labourers undertake to generate or supplement their incomes. These included vegetable farming, pig rearing and tailoring, supported by FCA with funding from the Finnish government.

Two woman smile in a photo. They are both wearing large necklaces
The Ambassador of Finland to Nepal, Riina-Riika Heikka during a visit to FCA projects in Nepal. Photo: Deepika Naidu

They were also impressed by the impact FCA distributed bicycles had on farmers’ ability to transport their goods to market, decreasing their reliance on middlemen.

Said Ms Heikka, “I think what has impressed me the most is FCA’s work with women and women’s economic empowerment and linking it also to advocacy work.

But being very concrete on bringing sustainable solutions to the communities and also to women and girls, using local expertise, local knowledge and network and a good partner in order to really strive for sustainable solutions for the future.”

Watch Ambassador Heikka’s interview with FCA

Communities in the lead

Working closely with the community has been key in FCA’s success in the region. Lal Bahadur Chaudhary, 52, and his wife Janaki Chaudhary, 48, are a farming couple, who not only serve as representatives for their community but have also made significant strides towards adopting modern farming techniques to increase their yields.

A woman reaches through a trellis to tend a plant in a large field.
Gita Devi Sarki is an ex-bonded labourer from Kholibasti, who also received support from FCA for her vegetable farm. Photo: Uma Bista

Chaudhary was among the participants in an earlier training visit organized by FCA to Chitwan district. During the session, people exchanged knowledge and experience on sustainable farming, including using indigenous resources as pest control.

Since then, he has not only improved the family farm’s yield, but also disseminated the knowledge he gained during the visit to the other members of his community. Chaudhary’s family no longer needs to purchase vegetables from the market as they can produce enough for their own consumption, with a surplus that can be sold in the market to generate income for their household.

A number of people look over a wall into a pig sty
The Ambassadors visited pig farmers in Far West Nepal. Photo: Deepika Naidu

Another income-generating activity that ex-bonded laborers have undertaken with the support of FCA is pig farming. This project has helped the community members to rear pigs and sell them in the local market.

Tailoring is another initiative that FCA has undertaken to support ex-bonded laborers. Salina Chaudhary was one of the recipients of tailoring training in 2020.

A woman inspects a piece of clothing on a table.
Salina Chaudhary in her tailoring shop. Salina gives tailoring training after receiving tailoring training from FCA Nepal in 2020. Photo: Uma Bista

Three years later she now operates her own tailoring business and trains other women in her community. The Ambassadors were impressed with the quality and variety of clothes Salina and her trainees make. Moreover, they recognised the tremendous impact that the project has had on the communities, as it has facilitated the development of valuable skills through the training programs.

Finally, the Ambassadors visited a community group called REFLECT. The FCA supported project is an approach to adult literacy and empowerment which uses participatory learning methods to promote dialogue and critical thinking among community members, enabling them to identify and address their social, economic, and political issues.

“I think the most important thing for me has been to witness the warmth of the people and the atmosphere of going forward and really the atmosphere of movement,” concluded Ms Heikka.

Text: Deepika Naidu

Women and girls became central in our pandemic work

Women and girls became central in our pandemic work 

Right after the declaration of COVD-19 restrictions and lockdowns, we understood that child marriage would become a pertinent issue in our working areas, writes Program Development Coordinator Deepika Naidu.

Intensifying gender-based violence (GBV), more domestic work, drop-outs from school, and increasing numbers of child marriage. The covid-19 pandemic hit us all hard, but the consequences of school closures and national lockdowns were especially serious for Nepalese girls and women. 

Right after the declaration of COVD-19 restrictions and lockdowns, we understood that child marriage would become a pertinent issue in our working areas. That’s why we wanted to focus on child safeguarding and make it one of our first priorities. We started implementing our activities which included child clubs in school, community dialogues and even educational street drama performances.  

We also erected billboards with a message on child marriage and its negative effects on children’s physical, mental, social well-being and legal provisions against child marriage. It was encouraging to see that the billboards were well recognized by the community and local government officials.  

In addition to child safeguarding, the pandemic forced us to respond to the crisis in many ways. Our food distributions addressed the immediate needs of the most marginalized groups, especially pregnant and lactating women, and households who had a person with a disability. 

As in many other countries, there were more reported cases of gender-based violence in Nepal during the lockdown. We did our best to tackle the problem with our family dialogues, media awareness campaigns and sessions on gender inequality with mixed groups engaging men, boys, women and girls of communities. Some of the cooperatives (supported by FCA) formulated advocacy plans of action including activities to reduce child marriage and addressing GBV, amongst others. These were submitted to the respective local governments. 

In consideration of the increasing violence and abuse against women and girls in the quarantine centres, FCA partners advocated for women-friendly spaces with local governments. Our efforts bore fruit: due to this collective voice of Civil Society Organisations, local governments initiated women-friendly spaces in the targeted quarantine centres.  

I’m hopeful because our constitution is very progressive and the policies and acts addressing child marriage and violence against women and girls are promising. The presence of the local units of the government at the community level aims to create an enabling environment for women and girls to thrive.  

Deepika Naidu Program Development Coordinator 

Crises may pave the way to a brighter future

Crises may pave the way to a brighter future

As I am writing this, the Covid-19 pandemic is dominating the news and daily politics for the second year running. In fact, this topic has overshadowed other news to such an extent that it is hard to remember what went on in the world before Covid-19 testing, vaccines and coronavirus variants. Climate change, protracted conflicts, swarms of locusts destroying crops – does any of that ring a bell?

The work carried out by Finn Church Aid focuses on providing education, securing livelihoods and building peace. The objective of long-term development cooperation is to help entire communities become stable and self-sufficient.  

We also respond to more urgent needs. After a massive explosion in the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut in August 2020, we delivered emergency assistance to those affected. When Covid-19 stopped trade and food deliveries at state borders in several parts of the world, we continued to provide emergency food assistance.  

Some of the areas where we promote development cooperation, humanitarian assistance and peace do naturally overlap, just as global crises are inextricably intertwined. Many of our programme countries faced profound challenges even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes in climate and protracted conflicts have caused food crises, health crises and displacement of millions of people. 

In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, devastating floods have left two thirds of the country’s 11 million inhabitants in need of some form of humanitarian assistance as they are suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition. 

Syria also has a disastrous decade of suffering behind it. This conflict-ridden country has spiralled into an economic crisis that, for Syrian people, translates into a shortage of food and lost income opportunities. An entire generation of children has gone to school in emergency conditions. 

Poika kirjoittaa vihkoon luokassa.
Muhammad Abdo Hijzai from East Ghouta is a 13-year-old boy who participated in remedial education in, for example, mathematics, supported by Finn Church Aid. Photo: Abu Talib Al-Buhaya.

The global pandemic has ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses of many countries. In Nepal, more than 25 per cent of the country’s GDP has in recent years consisted of remittances by Nepalese working abroad. With the pandemic forcing migrant workers to return home, families have struggled for more than a year, trying to cope without an adequate income to guarantee a decent living. 

But the pandemic has not brought all progress to a halt, even if we sometimes feel like it. In a number of projects, the situation has forced us to take a big leap forward in technology. For instance, in Kenya we distributed radios to enable women to participate in peace dialogues. Our objective in such projects was to make communities better equipped to resolve conflicts involving natural resources. 

Without a doubt, we will face more challenges in the future. Our climate is becoming increasingly harsh, and in these changing conditions, it is likely that more epidemics will circulate in the population. Natural disasters will force people to leave their homes in growing numbers. According to forecasts, a high population growth rate in Africa will result in massive migration within the continent.  

But the good news is that resilient societies are able to take better precautions and prepare for disasters. In time, the Covid-19 crisis will pass, and this is when Finn Church Aid’s efforts to improve education, support livelihoods and forge peace will bear fruit and produce even more tangible results. Those who have participated in our projects have been building a stronger foundation for their lives, enabling them to pursue a brighter future. 

Ulriikka Myöhänen, Communications Specialist.

This text twas originally published in our Annual Report 2020 that came out recently. Would you like to know more about what was done?

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FCA takes a step towards localisation by forming a Global Leadership Team

FCA takes a step towards localisation by forming a Global Leadership Team

Mies puhuu mikrofoniin ruohokentällä, yleisöä ja valkoisia telttakatoksia taustalla.
Country Director for Uganda Wycliffe Nsheka addresses the graduates at Finn Church Aid’s graduation ceremony for from the Business and Technical Vocational Education Training (BTVET) at Rwamwanja refugee settlement. Photo: Michele Sibiloni.

FCA’s Board of Directors has appointed three representatives of FCA’s programme countries to its newly formed Global Leadership Team (GLT) in June. The GLT is part of FCA’s new organisational structure that came into force on April 1, 2021, and the term of the representatives is 2+1 years.

Country Director of South Sudan Mr Berhanu Haile, Country Director of Nepal Ms Sofia Olsson, and Country Director of Uganda, Mr Wycliffe Nsheka will be starting in their new roles in August. Permanent member of the Global Leadership team are Executive Director Jouni Hemberg and Deputy Executive Director Tomi Järvinen.

The GLT will have a significant role in strategic decision-making in FCA’s new organisational structure that aims to serve better the people FCA works with and emphasise accountability. Having a multi-skilled Global Leadership Team with diverse field experiences will improve FCA’s work, says Wycliffe Nsheka.

“Development cooperation has taken a major shift whereby the focus now is to promote mutual learning. I have been in the sector for 20 years, and there has been talk of localisation for a long time, but there is still work to be done in bringing it to practise”, Nsheka continues.

The new GLT will be committed to making localisation a reality and supporting the Global South to strengthen ownership and sustainability. Berhanu Haile says that the new management model is a significant step towards heeding local knowledge and experience to inform strategic decision-making.

“This is a significant step towards localisation while at the same time transforming FCA to be a global organisation that embraces views from North and South,” says Haile.

“The approach will ensure that we strategically respond to the rights and needs of the marginalised people with whom we work,” says Sofia Olsson.

Nepal facing Covid-19 disaster as virus cases surge

The Covid-19 outbreak in Nepal is escalating quickly. From reporting around a hundred cases per day a month ago, Nepal currently registers a devastating number of 9,300 daily cases. The rate of positive tests is now the world’s highest – around 49 per cent of all conducted test are positive.

Nepal has a fragile health system and already experiences a lack of hospital beds, oxygen supplies and ventilators. The vaccine rollout has stopped, while the number of new infections is rising fast. Finn Church Aid (FCA) is extremely concerned about the situation, and its office in Nepal closely monitors developments while considering different ways to respond.

FCA Nepal works with the country’s most vulnerable communities and is looking for ways to continue its support amid the health crises, says Country Director Sofia Olsson.

“The situation is incredibly difficult right now. Hospitals have been completely full and overwhelmed for the past ten days, and it is estimated that we have less than 10 per cent of the projected need for ICUs, ventilators and oxygen supplies. The death rate is increasing dramatically due to the lacking resources”, she says.

Olsson says that Nepal urgently needs support from the international community.

“All in-country development partners are already working on this, but what is also essential right now is for the outside world to open its eyes to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Nepal and look beyond the Covid crisis in India. The situation in India is awful, but as Nepal has much less resources and capacities than our big neighbour, we are bound to see a significantly worse development in Nepal unless aid starts flowing in now”, Olsson says.

FCA has worked in Nepal for several years and remains, with its local partners, committed to joint efforts in addressing the humanitarian consequences and the socio-economic impact of the alarming virus outbreak.

”It would be better to be parents together” — a lack of work separates families in rural Nepal

”The duty of the one leading the way is to tell others what the road is like and what is waiting ahead, as well as to warn others of danger. That’s the duty of a parent. To lead the way,” says farmer Khincha Lal Pahari. He and his immediate and extended family live in the village of Bakhfer in Sindhuli District in rural Nepal.

The house is surrounded by fields used for growing potatoes and rice. In the middle of the field, Khincha has six farming tunnels, a type of greenhouse that gives the plants a longer growing season. He uses them to grow cucumbers and tomatoes. The ground floor of the house has a kiosk in which Khincha’s mother sells beverages and snacks.

”When we moved here, there was nothing” – FCA supports livelihood projects in ex-bonded labor communities in Nepal

The centuries-old tradition of bonded labour was ended in Nepal over ten years ago. The end of debt bondage left many families with nothing, meaning no land of their own, no education, and no means of subsistence. FCA supports livelihood projects in ex-bonded labor communities.

Hot and dry. The temperature is over 40 degrees Celsius, and the soil has turned yellow. In western Nepal, close to the Indian border, conditions are harsh in the late spring. Before the monsoon, the earth is dry and water is in short supply. The weather has always been hot this time of year, but climate change has made the arrival of the rains hard to predict.

”When we moved here, there was nothing,” says Sushila Chaudhari. Now, the village is surrounded by fields, and the other edge is used for raising pigs. By selling vegetables, the family has earned enough to become self-sufficient. Sushila moved to the village 12 years ago when she got married. Since then, the region has developed enormously. Nowadays, it is even possible to dream.

”I want to expand my cultivation and make it possible for my children to continue their studies,” she says.

Sushila Chaudhari lives in the community of ex-bonded labour.

The villages of Kailali district are home to several communities of former bonded labourers. The drought is not the only challenge standing in the way of their livelihood – many are still living without land or birth certificate. Some of the former bonded labourers have been able to register a plot of land to their name and make a living, for example, by farming, raising chicken, or running small-scale businesses.

33-year-old Gita Chaudhari lives in Kailari with her husband and two children. Gita moved to the village when she got married 14 years ago. Her son, 14, and daughter, 10, go to school. The family earns a living by raising chicken and growing crops on rented land. Gita spent her childhood helping her parents, who lived in debt bondage, with household chores.

Nepal has a long history of various forms of bonded labour. The Haliya labour system was banned in 2008 and the Kamaiya system in 2000; in both systems, labour meant hard agricultural labour for the landlord. A feature typical of the debt was that it accumulated interest and, in practical terms, was often impossible to pay back. The debt was even inherited by the children of the family, forcing the entire family into bondage. For children, this meant dropping out of school or going without education altogether.

Basanti Chaudari’s tea shop sells a variety of foods such as samosas, noodles, and biscuits. The shop, founded five months earlier, is off to a good start. A project supported by Finn Church Aid has provided Basanti with education regarding maintaining the shop, as well as a startup grant to help her get started.

Basanti does practically everything in the shop herself.

”Sometimes it’s hard to manage to prepare all the food. At times, the children help me, and for example, my daughters help out by wiping the tables and so on.”

Shanti Chaudhary is helping her sister-in-law.

Today, offering additional assistance as a waitress is the wife of her brother-in-law Shanti Chaudhary, whose husband works in India. Kailali is dry and sparsely populated, and livelihood opportunities are poor. The neighbouring countries offer more jobs, and opportunities such as factory work in India drive many men to look for employment abroad.

The shop is off to a good start, and Basanti hopes to be able to save money and expand her business in the future. In addition to villagers, her customers include passers-by.

”I didn’t go to school, and because of that, I didn’t use to have work. Now I do, and I even make money.”

Because Basanti herself was unable to go to school, it is important for her to offer her children a better starting point. She uses the profits from her shop towards the education of her twin daughters, 7, and her son, 10.

Finn Church Aid’s partner organisation Freed Kamaiya Women Development Forum supports the communities and women groups of the region in various ways. Saving cooperatives allow the women of the region to grow their livelihood, for example by  getting loans to buy or rent a bigger plot of land. The women of Janchetana Saving and Credit Cooperative say that cooperation makes them happy. During their meetings, the office of the cooperative is always full, and agreements are reached together.

”At first, making rules wasn’t easy. People had lots of conflicting views, but by talking things through together, we reached an understanding”, they say.

Now, the successful group has been operating for five years. Dreams for the future include getting premises of their own instead of rented space; in addition, the group hopes to turn their  operation into a real bank.

Most of the income is from farming. Irrigation is a challenge, while another problem is how to get the vegetables produced to the market; at present, some of the crops go to waste.

Bonded labourers had no freedom to move or to make decisions regarding how to spend their time. All the work decreed by the landlord had to be done, and the landlord got all the profits. When the centuries-old tradition of bonded labour was broken, the labourers were free.

Until 2001, 90-year-old Champi Chaudhari lived as a Kamaiya, or in bonded servitude.

Rights of ex-bonded labour are not fulfilled in rural Nepal

Up until 2001, Champi Chaudhari lived in bonded servitude.

”We were treated like animals,” she says.

All her time was spent working for her landlord, and during what little time was left over, she had to take care of her own family. She had nothing left for herself.

”I’m doing really well now. I no longer have to work, and we have all the amenities here,” she says.

The village community has began farming with success, and agricultural work keeps the parents of the families occupied. Champi Chaudhari no longer needs to work. As the village elder, she now gets to enjoy her life.

Text: Noora Pohjanheimo
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho
Photos: Tatu Blomqvist