Thursday, October 1, 2015

Farmer-to-Farmer Program: Bharatpur, Janaeu Purnima at Devghat, and Chitwan National Park (Nepal)

The next stop on the training tour was Bharatpur in Chitwan district. Arriving quite late in the evening, we were met by the local PEAN representative, an enthusiastic young man with private school English. A bandh (strike) had been called for in Chitwan, and we were concerned about how it would affect the training. This would mean no motorized traffic, as some of the demonstrations had resulted in vandalism. In the end, my Winrock colleague called it a "mini-bandh," as motorcycles still seemed to be on the road, and many people were out and about. Since the bandh meant closed shops anyway, it may have actually bumped up our attendance numbers. Nearly double the agro-vets expected came! Winrock staff told me I broke a record as I was the first Farmer-to-Farmer consultant to run out of the thick stack of business cards printed for me and needed a second printing.

The training took place in the local district agricultural development office, or DADO. The agro-vets in Chitwan were very receptive, getting into passionate discussions about the support and enforcement they needed from the government, what policies and practices they would like to implement or change, and how they could improve their businesses and services to farmers. One of the videos I like to show is of a farmer going about his normal mixing, applying, and cleaning a backpack sprayer. However, instead of pesticides, his spray solution contains a mixture that glows under blacklight, so afterwards, you can see all of the places that were contaminated on his body, his family, and the environment. Many of the agro-vets were very interested in showing it to their farmer customers. They eagerly copied down websites where they could read pesticide label information, view examples of how to best store and arrange inventory, and buy different kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE). Quite a successful workshop, we even had to get the Winrock office in Kathmandu to air-mail us extra training certificates!

The day we were scheduled to leave Chitwan was a holy day. Hindus wear a sacred red thread around their wrist as a token of familial love and prayers for protection, and Janaeu Purnima is the day they receive new threads. In the morning, we went to Devghat, a religious site at the junction of two rivers, the Seti Gandaki and Krishna Gandaki. Priests blessed and tied on new red threads on my colleagues, and then they performed ablutions in the sacred waters. The crowd also watched with interest as a group donned life-jackets and boarded a raft to be ferried across the swift-flowing junction. The current carried them in a wide arc before the rafters regained control, and everyone onshore breathed a collective sigh of relief. Our crossing via the suspension bridge - rain-slicked and the river visible in the wide gaps between the boards - seemed far safer by comparison. Later, my Winrock colleague kindly invited us to his house to meet his family and have a "snack," which I quickly discovered in Nepal are usually the size of a full meal. This snack included a rice pudding, an excellent fresh cucumber and potato reminiscent of German potato salad, and kwati, a stew made of several beans that is the traditional dish of Janaeu Purnima. With options for second helpings, of course.

Chitwan is most famous for the national park. A favorite hunting ground by the upper classes of Nepal in the past, this UNESCO world heritage site is home to Bengal tigers, leopards, and honey badgers. We didn't have a lot of time to spare before moving on to our next training location, and I could not take part in one of the popular elephant safaris, after having volunteered in a rehabilitation center for elephants who'd been abused in such trekking work (you can read about our wonderful experience at Elephant Nature Park here). However, we did negotiate a 45-minute walk around with a guide for what amounted to $5 for 3 people. In that short amount of time, we hit pay dirt: a one-horned rhinoceros! The rhinos are Chitwan National Park's most famous residents and not always even seen by tourists who've been on several days of safaris. This big guy was calmly chewing on some vegetation and wandered into the little river for a bit of drink and swim. There was a fairly steep bank between us and the hulking beast, but I still asked the guide what we should do if the rhino charged. The response,"Oh, just run over to that tree there and try to climb up it, but if you can't climb, just stand by it," did not inspire great confidence!

Click on the picture to see the whole album.
Rich and Julie Get A Move On

No comments:

Post a Comment