Collective farming bringing communities together
Sunsari district in Eastern Nepal is blessed with destinations like the holy shrines of Budha Subba and Ramdhuni and is home to the “paradise of birds”– the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. Although Sunsari is home to natural and religions attractions and is a strategically-located southern Terai district that connects to touristic hilly towns, such as Dharan and Bhedetar, its communities, like Chandbela Village Development Committee (VDC), continue to suffer from severe impoverishment and underdevelopment. Chandbela, which lies east of the district headquarters—Inaruwa, is a VDC that has large Tharu, Muslim and Khawas populations. Having communities with different religious faiths, the community has both challenges and opportunities.
The cause of recent discord in Chandbela can be traced back to2013, when a Muslim boy allegedly attempted to rape a Hindu girl. The incident severely impaired the cordial relationship that Hindus and Muslims have traditionally shared in the community, and has continued to simmer over the years, seriously threatening social harmony. Consequently, the fear of reprisal and feelings of animosity remain prevalent and historically entrenched caste-based discrimination and practices of untouchability continue to wedge the diverse communities of Chandbela apart.
In that context, in order make a difference and to implement a social cohesion campaign through inter-communal interaction and collaboration, SCDP is partnering with local actors to heal the psychologically divided communities. As a result, the once-factitious groups have now come together to collectively farm mushrooms commercially—enhancing income generation, which in turn is contributing towards strengthening social ties.
With UNDP’s intervention, 17 farmers, mostly women– representing Muslim, Tharu, Rishidev, Uraw and Khatwe communities– have now switched from conventional farming to commercially farming mushrooms, a product that has huge potential in the market. Having sold out their first lot of produce, the collective has been further encouraged to work towards achieving financial independence and to improve their living standards.
Further, the farmers have formed an Entrepreneurs Group which has initiated a prohibition on the sale and consumption of alcohol after 7 PM in the community, an initiative that has been fully supported by the local police post. “I am now respected by my family and the society and it has boosted my morale and self-esteem”, said Sanjha Rajdhami, a member of the farming group. She attests that the collective farming initiative has helped create a common forum where people from diverse ethnic communities come and work together for a common cause, which in turn has strengthened social cohesion.