Local Ownership, Leadership, And Relevance To Local Priorities
The Chepangs are one of the most disadvantaged indigenous groups in Nepal and are categorized as ‘highly marginalized’ population based on a set of socio-economic indicators on population size, language, literacy rate, house type, land ownership, occupation, and access to higher education. Chepang's inhabit the hilly areas of Nepal, scattered mainly across the districts of Chitwan, Makwanpur, Dhading and Gorkha.
Jimling is a predominantly Chepang village in Rapti, Nepal. The targeted project area covers 3 wards of Rapti Municipality-10, 11, and 12, Chitwan district. There are approximately 1,700 households comprising of 9,300 individuals with 48% female population with a mixed population of Chepang, Tamang, Magar and Newar. Basic urban facilities like electricity and toilets are not to be found. There is a rural school and small health post in the area. Income sources are through smallholding agriculture and migrant work as daily laborers. There is no formal economic activity and only a few small shops. Income opportunities are also limited due to lack of road, tourism, or any jobs locally. As the village does not get any visitors, there is no opportunity for increased economic activities or market. Most of Chepangs are illiterate, economically poor and alienated from the mainstream line of the society and face these two major challenges.
Food Insecurity and Health: Food insecurity along with malnutrition is the most prominent issue in health and livelihood of the Chepangs. Infertile land, overuse of chemical fertilizers such as Urea, lack of irrigation facilities, cultivation depending on rainfall that occurs as per the climatic conditions explains enough reasons behind low productivity. This also makes Chepangs vulnerable to climate change.
Poverty and Livelihood: According to the recent Nepal Living Standard Survey 2011, almost 90 percent of Chepangs live below the poverty line, earning around 6,000 Nepali rupees (approximately 50 USD) per capita annually. Many rely on out-migration labor work and the COVID-19 has resulted in loss of job and income opportunities.
COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated underlying structural inequalities and pervasive discrimination to indigenous communities. Risk of food security due to job loss and lack of income to feed their families resulting in famine. Lack of income affects access to healthcare and education and puts them at further economic risk and pushes back their economic growth and empowerment. These economic hardships have a huge impact on the socio-economic condition of Chepang communities and are hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is thus of utmost importance to the Chepangs of Jimling village to get access to food security, nutrition, and livelihood opportunities to emerge from poverty. The proposed project is to support Chepang households of Jimling through livelihood and entrepreneurship programs by introducing rabbit farming, scaling existing activities like bee-keeping, mustard farming, pig farming, and Chuiri tree plantation. Rabbit farming will create a sustainable source of nutrition which helps improving health, and the business model will enable creating sustainable livelihood and entrepreneurship opportunities. Rabbit farming requires minimal resources and skills, is highly productive and growing market. Rabbit meat is nutritious, and leather can be processed for crafts. Jimling has good mustard production and high potential for bee-keeping and Chuiri tree plantation given its natural environment. Mustard will be developed into high-value product and bee-keeping will boost rural entrepreneurship. Chepangs are familiar with pig farming, and the project will help scale up and train locals in modern techniques and value addition. Chuiri plantation will aim at revitalizing barren land, adapt to climate change and create a source of natural resources and livelihood opportunities for the long term. Given limited access to modern technology including electricity, the project will scale up the existing solar mill and add new resources like solar pumps for irrigation, solar panels at key community centers such as training centers, health post, rural school, etc. These resource centers are accessible to the locals and trainers who can take benefit of electricity for various tasks and modernize the community. IIAD will engage at community participation, adoption, monitoring and evaluation, environmental and social risk management and impact reporting. Himalayan Rabbit Farm will provide resources and training on rabbit farming and market development. Baliyo Nepal will spread awareness on nutritional value of rabbit meat and other products like mustard, honey, pig and chuiri products. IIAD’s existing network in agri-business and agrotourism will be mobilized to add value to other agricultural value chain.
The project will operate for a duration of one year and aims to create skilled employment, capitalize on local resources, add nutrition to the locals, and create livelihood opportunities. The support of local authorities, mothers group, youth club and communities are the fundamental strategy for success as it creates ownership and value creation. With IIAD’s existing relationship built over time by Mr. Biswash Praja - Chairman, who is a local of the village, through participatory development activities with locals such as pig farming, poultry, solar mill, COVID-19 awareness and support, the local actors will be open for collaboration and coordination. Our implementing partners, Himalayan Rabbit Farm (HRF) will provide training and capacity development support. This will include setting up rabbit cages, supplying rabbit for breeding, and training on rabbit care, breeding, farming, and butchering techniques. HRB will provide ongoing training and access to market in Chitwan through their value-chain. Baliyo Nepal will support in spreading awareness and information on rabbit meat and its nutritional value. This creates an opportunity to penetrate meat market in Nepal and expand market opportunities and adoption, while creating economic activity in the target project area.
Rabbit farming is one of the most convenient and easy to rear agri-business. Chepangs are already used to goat farming which should not be a difficult task to adjust with rabbit farming. As Rabbits require less management time, less water and less space to grow as compared to other livestock, Chepang community members can use this as an innovative approach for economic empowerment. 3 Does and 1 Buck can produce up to 90 bunnies a year which gives ample opportunities to scale up the project. A hutch with 12 cages costs Rs. 20,000 using local resources and a doe and buck costs Rs. 2,000 each. Rabbit meat can fetch Rs. 800 per kilogram in wholesale market. Each rabbit is marketable at 4 months weighing around 2 kilograms. Hence, minimal investment in the community can contribute to increasing number of rabbits in shorter span of time that supports economic empowerment to individuals, households, and community members.
Rabbit meat is highly valued for its nutritional and dietary properties; it is a lean meat with a low-fat content and less saturated fatty acids and cholesterol than other meats. Knowing the fact that malnutrition is rampant in Chepang community. Not only are the children malnourished, but even pregnant women, new mothers and elderly people suffer from malnutrition in Chepang community. Rabbit meat contains Omega-3,6, a rich source of protein can contribute to reducing malnutrition in Chepang community. Rabbit meat is rich in Calcium, Potassium, Selenium and other micronutrients, that are not easily available in other meat options
This project can Integrate Agro Tourism through multidimensional approach in rabbit farming. Such as eco-village promoting agro-tourism, where visitors are familiarized with consuming rabbit meat, and adapt integrated packages in utilizing rabbit skin for different purpose. The community members can generate income through different means: rabbit manure, selling grass, vermicomposting and so on.
IIAD firmly believes in sustainability as project is designed to create economic, environmental, and social impact. In response to the pressing needs in health (food security and nutrition) and economic (poverty and livelihood), the rabbit farming project aims at creating change with an enabling value-integrated method. Given the constraint in agricultural production due to climate change, limited economic activities, and distant from mainstream market, the project creates new opportunity for agri-business not restricted by climatic conditions, availability of affordable and nutritious food security, and attract visitors to explore Jimling as a model-rabbit farming community.
In comparison to poultry, goat-farming or cattle-farming, rabbit farming is technically easier, low-cost, and less labor-intensive. Rabbit farms can easily be catered by women and the elderly and combine it with their regular schedule as it requires limited care and no grazing. Rabbit cages can be manufactured using naturally available resources such as bamboo, and primary feed is forages. The ease and nature of rabbit farming ensures that women can actively participate in livelihood opportunities while not being diverted from their daily activities and farming practices. Furthermore, rabbit manure is rich in Nitrogen and Potassium, therefore being very good for organic farming. This means that women can cater to rabbit farming, while also gathering manure to increase other agricultural production. As women are primary target group of the project and male prefer labor work, the project enables increasing income of female members, which translates to saving and investment in child education. Finally, as rabbit meat is one of the most nutritious meat and the production cycle is fast, the project families (including children, elderly, and women) can consume regular rabbit meat thus improving their health and nutritious value. This makes rabbit farming a sustainable business model and a whole food.
COVID-19 resulted in male migrant workers returning home with no income, resulting in additional financial burden, economic hardship, limited productivity, and food consumption. Often, it is women that feed the family and end up having to sleep hungry due to limitation of food and income. The project envisaged seeks to create a sustainable development impact by creating skilled, economic, and entrepreneurial opportunities for indigenous women, utilize natural resources for rabbit farming and use by-products like manure and leather for additional economic opportunities, and produce meat products to improve food security and nutritional intake of these marginalized communities and create access to newer frontiers. Rabbit farming can be setup in barren and unutilized land by using natural resources. This ensures that the project enables in empowering vulnerable communities like indigenous Chepang women to not only step out of poverty but participate in economic activity and growth of their families and communities.
Furthermore, to curb the risk-taking appetite of locals, the project will provide other economic opportunities that utilizes local knowledge and strengthens it with modern practices, create market opportunities, and add clean-energy resources to improve productivity and quality.
Project emphasizes on strengthening local networks to connect local needs with local resources while adding modern technology and training to create shared value. Project engages communities, local organizations and government agencies as true partners in the design and implementation with continuous and meaningful support. This can be done through involvement of local youth clubs and mothers group within the community so that the project objectives are met. Local youth club from the local area, local nonprofit organization would help to bring out local needs from the community solving their real problems thorough financial support from donor organization such as USAID. Strengthening local networks would empower them as agents of their own advancement in the process of achieving sustainable impact.
Project will emphasize on creating local ownership by enabling them to design, monitoring and evaluating mechanisms throughout the activities. Integrating gender perspective, equal participation of women and men in the process, and participatory decision making including locally led priority-setting, collaborative design, and other means of devolving control and ensuring inclusive local leadership would enable them to create local ownership in the project. Designing metrics and indicators for the project such as (i.) Self-assessment, (ii.) Objective measures, (e.g., observations by an external evaluator), and(iii.) Performance measures (e.g., number of clients served). In addition to this the project will create a feedback mechanism to ensure that information flows in various directions among the stakeholders.
There are always risks to the project as local priorities or context can change. Thus the project is not a one-dimensional approach, but designed to introduce new concepts that is easy to adopt while also providing opportunities to continue participating and engaging in what they are traditionally used to such as pig-farming, bee-keeping, mustard and Chuiri plantation. The projects approach to create local resources such as solar mills and pumps, and electrification of key centers will enable locals to engage and participate in other activities. Green energy can present opportunities to operate other small businesses and production centers as small tools and gadgets can be used. As such, with ongoing stakeholder engagement and grievance handling mechanism, the project will continuously engage with locals to prioritize the project activities while giving opportunities to provide feedback and adapt the practices.
Local participation is a must in terms of benefits sharing. The project is small in nature and cannot accommodate the entire population of the village. However, with participatory engagement, the neediest families will be selected to engage at individual capacity to run and operate the farms. Furthermore, community farms will be established in cooperation with local youth clubs, mothers’ group and local authorities to create a bigger facility that can provide employment and cater to high demand of the market. This will also allow income generated to be reinvested in expansion and growth of the farms or in other activities that wholly benefits the communities need in health, education, livelihood and gender empowerment.
Strengthening Local Systems
The project will strengthen local resources through utilization of indigenous knowledge, skills possessed by local people in the community itself. Through this way the project will enhance their existing skills possessed by the local community. This would create a sense of ownership through participatory involvement of local people in the project would ensure sustainability of the project by the community members. Likewise, abundant, and reusable natural resources will be used as key raw material for the project including construction of rabbit hutches and feed. Furthermore, rabbit manure will enhance the fertility of the land resulting in increased agri-products. Bee-keeping is a natural method for pollination and increasing the productivity. Chuiri plantation will revive existing landscape and protect from climate change while creating a pathway to livelihood opportunities for the future.
Agriculture based livestock support projects are important assets for vulnerable communities. This plays a significant role in increasing income, changing diets, and contributing to nutritional benefits of Chepang community.
The project aims in equipping the community with tools, resources, knowledge, and market systems to create a viable, scalable, and sustainable projects based around community agriculture. The ease to replicate model that puts locals and communities needs and priorities to help step out of famine and poverty to economic opportunities to enhance health and livelihood opportunities of Chepang communities in Jimling, Rapti Municipality.