Seizing the future in Nepal’s rural villages

Arughat village volunteers outside their new visitor centre, due to open in 2015.
Arughat village volunteers outside their new visitor centre, due to open in 2015.

A short field trip in early November took me to Dhading District at the start of the Manaslu circuit. The Arughat valley is where many people start the Manaslu trek nowadays and this has not gone unnoticed by the people of Arughat. A new visitor centre is planned to open early in 2015 at Arughat bazaar, providing visitor information and facilities, including route information, locally made handicrafts and a rooftop café with wifi. The entrepreneurial spirit runs high here and is part of a wider community spirit. The centre will be run by local volunteers with the aim of generating employment and local business for hotels, restaurants and handicraft makers. The aim is that the entire village will benefit. Advice provided through ESON will, I hope, result in a well thought out centre that visitors use and which in turn, supports the village.

Budhathum village fields
Budhathum village fields

Across the valley, the village of Budhathum is not on the trekking route. Even getting to Budhathum involved the most exciting jeep ride I experienced in Nepal. However, the villagers in Budhathum are also looking to the future.

ESON are running two projects here: one is looking at the potential of native plants as sources of biofuel and the other is exploring medicinal plants and their uses. Both are being delivered through three MSc studentships. While only at the early stages, the villagers here are very supportive. We convened a village meeting: 50 people came along to hear about the project progress and to give us ideas on what they would like to see happen next. There is a huge amount of plant based knowledge in these villages and people not only want to share their knowledge but also to learn more from the researchers. They want knowledge exchange. For example, different villages here have different local names for the same plants. They asked for plant identification workshops so they know the scientific plant names and are in a better position to collect and grow species that are in demand. Invasive non-native species like jatropha, originally planted as a biofuel, are now causing issues. They want advice on how to control it. They want to find out which other plants they can grow here as cash crops. Diversifying the crops they grow including crops they can sell for cash is a key issue here, as it was in Rasuwa. See my last blog, Life in a rural village.

The entrepreneurial spirit runs strongly here too. With these projects, ESON is investigating the potential of sustainable locally sourced energy, cash crops and sustainable local medicine. The next steps will be crucial in developing the projects further to get useful results and practical advice and support back to the villagers. This will mean rolling out the projects beyond the current research stage so that Budhathum villagers really get some results they can use.

It will mean providing training on plant identification, on the cultivation of new crops, on nursery management, on control of invasive species and supporting apprenticeships with today’s traditional healers to ensure their knowledge isn’t lost but continues to benefit the village.

You can help ESON take these next steps by supporting their work. Click on the Just Giving link to the left.

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