Backyard bounty

Jun 21, 2017

Households of Kalanga in Dhading had never expected their farmlands could have been so prosperous and plentiful until a lift irrigation scheme came into the area five years ago, supported by the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, and changed their lives as they knew it

When electricity from the Malekhu Khola Micro Hydro Power lighted his home in Mahadevsthan in Dhading district in central Nepal, Ratna Bahadur Magar thought it a utility that provided him better access. His children could study at night and he could watch television at home. It also helped him charge his mobile phone, which made communications in the rugged hills easier.

The 42-year-old father of four did not, however, anticipate the magnitude of the change it would bring to his life.

Five years ago, the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) funded the Kalanga Lift Irrigation Scheme, a pilot project that sought to supply water to more than 20 households in the area for vegetable farming. The 26-kilowatt hydropower plant, with a power station in the small bazaar of Archale, had begun operations a year earlier.

But before work on the irrigation project began, the local community wanted to see a similar project in the neighboring village of Mangtar. “We visited Mangtar and saw that they had watered their farms using lift irrigation,” says Ratna Bahadur.

Anjan Dallakoti, an AEPC field coordinator, recalled that the locals were inspired by the project, and wanted to replicate the Mangtar model in their own locality.  

Soon, the source of water was identified in a rock 500 meters from the households. Two sites were selected in which to set up tanks: one at the bottom of the village and three other tanks higher up. Each tank had a capacity of 5,000 liters each, which is pumped by the motor at a rate of one liter per second, enough to irrigate 110 ropanis of farmland.

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This irrigation system has transformed this hamlet from one that was dependent on subsistence farming to a productive, prosperous area. And Ratna Bahadur and his wife Parbati are among those who have benefited most from the scheme.

“Before this, we didn’t even have money for things like salt. The irrigation system has made a huge difference,” Ratna Bahadur says, as the couple, surrounded by children, sit in their modest mud-and-stone house. “We can produce vegetables all year, even during the dry season, and sell it in nearby markets.”

For the Magars, members of an indigenous community, the improved water supply has not only ensured a steady source of income—between two to three lakh rupees annually at present—but also provided them other subsequent opportunities they could have previously only dreamt of. Two years ago, they bought a Bolero jeep for Rs. 1.4 million to help transport vegetables to the markets. Half of the investment was made through a bank loan, and the rest was paid from the profits they made from their vegetables. “Porters carry vegetables down to the road. From there, our son drives it to the market,” Parbati says. In addition to the vehicle, the Magars also bought a small plot of land in Archale, where they have built a small house near the power house of the plant that supplies electricity.

Ratna Bahadur believes that were it not for the irrigation system, he would have most likely joined the hundreds of construction workers toiling on the highways, clearing debris left behind by landslides or building new roads. But instead, he looks after his farm and cattle in this mountain village nestled amidst corn and arum-covered hills.

All 23 households serve as members of a management committee that oversees the irrigation scheme. They charge every household a 50-rupee fee for water at the moment, but are considering raising it. The committee also raises additional funds for maintenance and repair.

Dhading district, which is west of Kathmandu, is well-known as a major supplier of green vegetables to markets in the capital. While the district’s other villages prospered in this regard, the residents of Kalanga were lagging behind, their harvest limited to the four summer months.

But thanks to the AEPC, they have joined their neighbors in taking advantage of the proximity to the capital and their own fertile land. “We were so poor and often thought of our home as barren. But now we that have all these vegetables and fruits growing here, it has given us a lot of confidence,” said the father of four.

The AEPC, under the Ministry of Population and Environment, is supported by UNDP through the Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood (RERL) project--a joint undertaking of the Government of Nepal, UNDP and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The programme seeks to increase equitable access to energy services, with a focus on enhancing rural livelihoods.

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