Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Farmer-to-Farmer Program: Hetauda, Gai Jatra, and Kavre (Nepal)

In a country that includes the Himalayas, it probably shouldn't have been a surprise that "plains" could be a subjective word. On our drives through the Terai plains, there were definitely hilly sections - I don't think farming on a plain should require terracing, do you? - and portions that would've given the Appalachians a run for their money. Driving from Chitwan to Makwanpur district, I finally saw land that to my Midwestern upbringing resembled flat lands. In this part of the Terai, the indigenous people are Tharu, and as my Tharu colleague from Winrock informed me, they are a different people with their own language, culture, and traditions. He was particularly pleased that recent research may support their belief that Buddha himself was probably Tharu.

This part of the Terai was dotted with peculiarly ornate houses. Three to four-stories with complex tile patterns on the facade are paired with ostentatious columns - everything from classical Greek to ones sculpted to look like tree trunks - and colorful balconies in some other style altogether. The combination made for a dizzying effect.

Shortly after arriving in Hetauda in the Makwanpur district, the local PEAN representative picked us up and took us out for a late bite to eat. Though it was getting quite dark, we could just make out the rubble of whole buildings that had been damaged by the earthquake and aftershocks. The pesticide registrar officer traveling with us related how he (and other government officials) had been pulled into disaster assessment and relief in the months following, and Makwanpur was more severely affected than other places we'd been.

Early the next morning before training commenced, we got to see a bit of Gai Jatra. This festival is when Nepali Hindus remember family members who have died within the past year. Children dress in costume and hold pictures of the departed. They receive small gifts of food - looking not unlike trick-or-treaters - but the items are meant as tribute to the dead. Gai Jatra actually means "cow festival," and a cow (or many) is part of the procession since Hindus believe the animal is holy and will help the decease's journey to heaven. The cow in Hetauda was more of a constructed float on a cart, and my heart went out to an elderly man grimly taking part, holding what was, presumably, a poster of his deceased wife.

Training in Hetauda was at the local DADO, and the PEAN representative warned us attendance would be high as they had originally requested to have 2 sets of training within Makwanpur district. While many of the agro-vets in Chitwan had been fairly young, there was a greater variety of ages in Hetauda. A few of the older gentlemen, dressed in the traditional daura-suruwal (trousers with a longish top under jacket) and Dhaka topi (folded hat in pinkish patterns), were quite open in sharing their experiences implementing and recommending an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. One even shared his successes concocting, using, and selling various extracts as pesticides and fertilizers. I was a little intimidated that a journalist writing for a Kathmandu paper was covering the training, but focusing on technical issues the agro-vets were interested in helped me forget my nerves. In Hetauda, I fielded questions on topics such as viral disease management in tomatoes, club root of Brassicas, and how temperature affects pesticide formulation efficacy and shelf-life.  

The training tour would continue on in a district on the other side of Kathmandu so we had to make a 4 hour journey through the mountains to get back to the capital. For the most part, the road was not in terrible shape, though windy and steep and likely treacherous if raining. We stretched our legs at a fruit stand and enjoyed some dried corn cobs that had been roasted over the fire as a sooty snack.

By the time we got to Kavre, the training ran like a well-oiled machine. Even the blackouts that occurred most of the first day and parts of the second didn't really slow us down. In the middle of the video illustrating proper use of excess pesticides and container disposal, I improvised triple rinsing with a little mime act using my water bottle and an empty 5-gallon drinking jug as the stand-ins for a pesticide bottle and backpack sprayer, respectively. Sitting in a darkened room without fans was a bit of a challenge for the drowsy. It became imperative to get all the agro-vets participating in the exercise to understand exactly how resistance develops in the field. The activity, taken from the playbook of field days we hosted at American Cyanamid in the late 90s, involves nearly as much bobbing up and down as a Catholic mass.

Since Kavre was an easy day trip from the capital, other department of agriculture officers, PEAN board members, and members of the Seed Entrepreneurs' Association Nepal (SEAN) also sat in on the training. The government officials handed out posters and manuals on pesticides registered in Nepal, toxicity classifications, and pre-harvest intervals (the time you need to wait after application before harvesting). During the break, the soon-to-retire pesticide registrar of Nepal got on stage - yes, there was actually a stage - and shared his experiences in agriculture over the long years of his career. Not a bad showing for the final stretch - his or our training plans!

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

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