How some catalytic support from the Govt & UNDP is helping women create jobs for themselves & other people affected by COVID-19.

Sindhuli is one of the most beautiful hill districts in Nepal's Bagmati Province. Over the past few years, the district saw a gradual increase in the number of women entrepreneurs. Most of these were small and micro enterprises and they were providing stable income for local people. However, with COVID-19 disrupting everyone's life, every three in five employees lost their jobs (read UNDP's rapid assessment of the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19) in the micro and small businesses. Many of the businesses shut down completely. As a response to COVID-19, UNDP partnered with over 30 municipalities across the country, reoriented most of its resources and co-invested with municipalities in activities that aimed at helping the most vulnerable to cope with the crisis. This helped over ten thousand affected vulnerable populations get emergency employment, technology support and skills training, leading to recovery or creation of hundreds of enterprises across the country.

These programs, which included skills training, technology support, market linkage, have demonstrated quick results. Here are some representative stories from one of the districts, Sindhuli.

Sukmaya Tamang’s dairy

Sindhuli’s Dudhauli Municipality is named after the Nepali word for milk – ‘dudh’. As the name suggests, the municipality is popular for its milk and dairy products. Among the dairies in the district, Sukumaya's Trishakti Dugdha Udhyog Dairy stands out as one of the fastest-growing enterprises. It has managed to gain the confidence of both the consumers and farmers in a short span of time.

The Trishakti dairy is located in the centre of Dudhauli and is operated by 46-year-old Sukmaya Tamang. As the dairy has been founded under the agro-cooperative concept, its ownership can be transferred to other farmers whenever necessary. The dairy, established with the joint support of UNDP and Dudhauli Municipality under the COVID-19 Response and Socio-Economic Recovery Project, was inaugurated by the provincial agriculture minister in November last year.

It collects around 300-700 litres of milk everyday from different wards in the municipality and uses the milk to make ghee, paneer, chhurpi, khuwa, peda, and chocolate, in addition to selling the milk itself. Their products are sold not just within Sindhuli, but also in neighboring districts.

Tamang, who is also a social worker, believes that the dairy has given her a new identity.

“This dairy would not have been possible without the support of UNDP. I am thankful to them for trusting me,” she said. “This is just the beginning; our dairy has the capacity to make use of 5,000-10,000 litres of milk every day."

UNDP provided support worth over Rs 1.5 million in the form of equipment while the remaining amount was invested by Tamang herself. The equipment provided by UNDP included a pasteuriser, chilling vat, showcase freeze, pump panel, and generator, among others. Besides, at least 60 milk cans were provided to the farmers to collect, transport, and supply milk.

“I feel particularly glad that we have been able to offer jobs to two persons who had recently returned from foreign employment and want to do something in their own country,” said Tamang.

The dairy’s turnover is Rs 700,000 per month, with a significant profit. But for Tamang, the dairy is not just a cash cow; she wants to engage more farmers in the dairy industry and has thus been encouraging local farmers to purchase more cows and buffaloes.

“One farmer should have at least five cows if he or she wants to do commercial farming," she said. Tamang’s own family has 20 buffaloes and three cows.

Tamang’s work ethic and her dedication to uplifting other farmers in the community have won her admirers in the municipality. Ghanashyam Raut, mayor of Dudhauli Municipality, is very impressed with Tamang’s work.

“To support the endeavours of women like Sukmaya Tamang, we will soon be launching a programme to distribute cows worth Rs 6 million to farmers. We want to encourage more farmers to adopt livestock farming," said Raut.

Tamang, who has even received an international award for her grass business based in the same district, wants to show that raising livestock can be lucrative, especially for a woman entrepreneur who wants to work for a living.

"Nepal is an agricultural country,” said Tamang. “We shouldn’t forget our roots."

Mushrooming business

A few kilometres away from Dudhauli is the village of Patiyani, where at least 10 women are involved in commercial mushroom farming. In the area, over 21 households in different wards are engaged in mushroom farming.

Chahana Shrestha is one of the 10 women whose lives have changed drastically in less than a year. Shrestha has two mushroom tunnels in her yard and a separate room where she has grown around 450 bags of mushrooms. Unlike in the past, women have been using modern machinery and technology, like straw cutters, cooking drums, and packaging machines, provided by UNDP in coordination with the local partner, Sahakarya Nepal.

"I sell around 25-30 kilograms of mushrooms every day at a price of Rs 160-200 per kilo,” said Shrestha. "The demand for mushroom is so high that we don’t even have to seek a market to sell them; people themselves visit our doorstep."

Shrestha is able to grow mushrooms at least four times a year using the modern equipment, which help save time while reducing manual labour. For instance, her old drum used to produce 10 bags of mushrooms at a time but the new machine produces 45 bags. Shrestha believes that the machines have helped her focus on additional production and sales. With her new increased income, she has been earning around Rs 45,000 a month.

"With that income, I have bought a new scooter. I’ve already learned how to drive and these days, I sell mushrooms off my scooter," she said.

Mayor Raut too is happy to witness such an improvement in mushroom farming.

"Women are on the frontlines of farming and they are doing an incredible job,” he said. “We are trying to help them enhance their production through various programmes."

Shrestha herself might be illiterate – she only knows how to write her name -- but that hasn’t stopped her from owning her own business while also supporting other women in her neighbourhood in their own endeavours, whether it is vegetable farming, dhaka cloth weaving, rickshaw driving, or any other form of local entrepreneurship.

But Shrestha doesn’t want to limit herself, so she is taking the initiative to open a vegetable collection centre that will help farmers find buyers for their produce. She also wants to purchase mini tiller machine that will help in farming.

Lal Bahadur Budhathoki of Sahakarya Nepal, the local project implementing partner, shared that Shrestha has been a role model for many other farmers.

"She is determined to become a leading vegetable farmer in the whole area, for which we are just a supporting hand," said Budhathoki.

Januka's garment factory

About a two-hour drive from Dudhauli is the municipality of Kamalamai. The municipality hosts the Kalimai Namuna Garment factory, where Januka Gautam works. Gautam took part in a three-month training programme provided by UNDP and Kamalamai Municipality, along with a seven-day business development training. Since then, Gautam has never looked back.

"Before this training, I had to depend on my husband and family even for general expenses. But this skill has changed my life. Today, I make a decent earning that has made my life easier and better," said Gautam.

At the garment factory, Gautam makes all sort of clothes, including track suits for school students, t-shirts, seasonal and festival dresses, and dresses for women. At least 10 women are working in this newly established industry, which has 10 sewing machines and other equipment provided by UNDP. The garment industry makes a total of Rs 300,000 to 400,000 every month.

At a time when the country was reeling under a lockdown imposed to control the spread of COVID-19, the team of women made thousands of face masks that were used at local hospitals, government offices, and by the general public across Sindhuli. The masks not only generated business, but also established the industry as a recognizable name in the region.

"We turned the crisis into an opportunity, and did business of around Rs 250,000 in a short period of time," Nirmala Pariyar, one of the women who works alongside Gautam.

The 10 women make at least Rs 20,000 a month. Though they have fixed 10-5 shifts for daily work, they also work as per the orders they receive and the delivery plan. Team members said that don’t want to stay idle at home even for a single day.

Yasodha Thapa, who was only able to study up to grade 10, now wants to use the money she is making to provide the best education possible for her three children.

"Through this income, I have been able to support my children's education. Now, I am financially independent and capable of providing the same training to other women," said Thapa.

These days, the women are busy finishing up the vests and trousers that are part of a school uniform. They bring in raw materials from Kathmandu and nearby cities like Birgunj and Janakpur, and use those materials to make clothes.

"We have already completed order from five schools and two similar assignments are underway. The demand is increasing by the day by day," said Gautam.

With growing demand, the women have realised the need to add more members to the team and purchase new equipment.

"The garment factory has boosted our confidence. We are trying to demonstrate that women are just as capable of running an industry as men," they said collectively.

Since there are no other garment factories run by an all-women team in the whole district, Kalimai Namuna Garment has been able to establish itself as an exemplary enterprise and now plans to focus on market promotion.

Weaving dreams out of dhaka

Lungelitaar is a small village that lies a few kilometres away from the main Sindhuli bazaar. Inside a newly constructed building, over a dozen women work hard to make clothes out of dhaka cloth at the Lungelitaar Women Entrepreneurs’ Dhaka Cloth Sewing Enterprise. Dhaka is a traditional fabric woven in a handloom that is soft and colourful.

These women had attended a three-month-long training programme at the beginning of 2020 under the coordination of UNDP, Kamalamai Municipality and the district MEGA. Today, they run a successful all-women dhaka enterprise that has been gaining popularity throughout the district of Sindhuli.

Benu Basnet, who is 49, had never thought that she would be a part of such an industry. She had basic weaving skills but had never used them for commercial purposes. These days, she makes sarees, kurthas salwars, coats, shawls, bags, and purses. Basnet and her team make clothes as per the order, which are often placed by merchants in the local markets.

"We easily make Rs 1,000 per day. It depends upon how many pieces we can finish. Generally, we make over Rs 20,000 every month, which we believe is an attractive income," Basnet said.

For instance, the enterprise sells a patterned saree for between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 while a plain saree sells for around Rs 5,000.

Women from the nearby villages of Rampur, Chakmake, Buddhanagar, Majhitar, and Dada Tole have benefitted primarily from the enterprise. It has attracted many unemployed women, including young girls who are keen to learn weaving. Dharamasakha Thapa, who recently completed her higher secondary level education, has now taken to weaving clothes out of dhaka cloth.

"This is not just about independence or income; it’s a special art. I feel proud to be able to make dhaka clothes. I want to continue this work and my education simultaneously," said Thapa.

Though the origin of dhaka cloth is unclear, districts like Tehrathum and Palpa have become hubs for the cloth. Many people associate dhaka with prestige, according to the women entrepreneurs.

"Dhaka has its own value as it is a local handmade product and is seen as a respectable fabric," said Januka Ale Magar, one of the women who works at the enterprise.

Demand for clothes made out of Dhaka is increasing and accordingly, these women want to upgrade their business.

"Now, we have only basic machinery but if we could get more advanced ones, we could make more clothes and do more business," they said in a collective voice. "We want to preserve the identity of the dhaka fabric."

"Dhaka has its own value as it is a local handmade product and is seen as a respectable fabric," said Januka Ale Magar, one of the women who works at the enterprise.

Demand for clothes made out of Dhaka is increasing and accordingly, these women want to upgrade their business.

"Now, we have only basic machinery but if we could get more advanced ones, we could make more clothes and do more business," they said in a collective voice. "We want to preserve the identity of the dhaka fabric."

Mayor of Kamalamai Municipality Khadga Khatri said the partnership between UNDP and his municipality had been successful in promoting women and marginalized gorups' engagement in enterprise development. "We look forward to having similar cooperations in the future to benefit a larger number of unemployed people," said Khatri.

Promoting inclusive economic growth

Promoting inclusive economic growth is one of the three priority areas where UNDP has been working alongside the Government of Nepal and its trusted partners. UNDP believes that countries and their citizens are best placed to understand and create their own sustainable development strategies. It is therefore committed to supporting the national institutions and the people of Nepal in their fight to eradicate poverty and address multidimensional inequality. UNDP strives to play a key role both in creating an enabling environment and in enhancing capacity, as well as by delivering support, such as through nurturing enterprises and creating jobs.

These stories are the results from different projects under UNDP’s inclusive economic growth portfolio, which has the sole objective to support the Government of Nepal’s efforts to improve access for economically vulnerable and unemployed people to sustainable livelihoods, safe and decent employment and income opportunities. Gender equality and social inclusion cuts across all of our programs and projects. Read more about all the projects under UNDP’s Inclusive Economic Growth portfolio and their impact on the ground.

Photos: Purnima Shrestha/UNDP Nepal

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