Good news: Improved food security and access to clean water in remote areas in Nepal

Good news: Improved food security and access to clean water in remote areas in Nepal

In the Far West regions of Nepal, food security has improved significantly through the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project, supported by Finland and the EU. Irrigation systems and innovative farming methods have contributed to diversified food production and higher crop yields. The municipalities covered by the project are located in the most remote, driest and poorest regions in Nepal.

Taka-alalla oleva nainen kohentaa säkkiä. Etualalla on rivissä säkkejä, joissa on linssejä ja papuja myytäväksi. Lisäksi tarjolla on mandariineja, tomaatteja ja pullotettuja juomia.
Caption: Higher crop yields and diversified agricultural production bring extra income to people in the mountain villages in Far West Nepal. Picture: Hanna Päivärinta/Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Finland has supported rural development and improvement of livelihoods in western Nepal through the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) since 2006. By 2019, approximately 600,000 people have gained access to clean drinking water. The European Union joined the project in 2017, being now a major supporter of the project. 

Traditional agriculture, which is based on self-sufficiency, cannot give livelihoods to the entire rural population of Far West Nepal. The majority of young men in the villages have therefore left Nepal to live as migrant workers mainly in India.

For those staying in the villages, everyday life is hard.  Public services are not available for people living in the remote villages. Travelling from the most remote villages to the nearest city may take two to three days.

When men are working abroad, the women and girls in the villages are in charge of food production and water collection. Grinding corn and collecting water for the family may take two hours per day. Due to the lack of proper mills, simple manual mills are used to grind corn. For girls this means less time to attend school.

People used to be able to cultivate only a few corn varieties because of poor conditions for farming, high temperatures, and traditional farming methods.  Crop yields are heavily dependent on the seasons and vulnerable to floods and droughts.

Leaving to fetch water at three in the morning

Before the village people in Dokra had built a water system, women used to collect water from a spring in the mountains.  Man Kumari Shahi used to wake up at three o’clock every day and walk half an hour to the nearest spring. Since the spring was used by other women in the village, too, there was normally no water left for the ones who arrived there last.

Nainen istuu pienen lammikon reunalla ja kaataa kannusta astiaan vettä.
Man Kumari is showing how villagers used to collect water from a spring. Picture: Bikash Kathayat/FCG

Because of shortage of water, there were no proper toilets in the village and only a few of the 120 households managed to keep livestock.

The Water Resources Management Project helped the village of Dokra to get a system that provides them with water 24 hours a day. According to Man Kumari Shahi, this improvement has freed women in the village to do other activities. 

The majority of the villagers have started to cultivate vegetables and grow cattle.

“We couldn’t have imagined how much a few changes can improve living standards, hygiene, and agricultural production,” people in the village of Dokra say.

Modern food production methods in use

The project introduces new techniques and crop varieties to develop local agriculture, as well as to intensify and diversify food production. Many farmers are now capable of producing crops that exceed their own needs and of earning extra income by selling the surplus yields.

In addition, families are now able to buy stoves that use less fuelwood and produce less smoke, thus contributing to the health of the people living in the household.

Anita Shahi used the income from selling her home garden crops to buy school materials for her children.  Picture: Bikash Kathayat/FCG

Anita Shahi is a 27-year-old mother of three children from the village of Jukot. During the rainy seasons, people in the villages have traditionally been able to grow only beans and some herbs. This means that the daily food consists of beans with salt, buttermilk and foods that have been stored earlier in the year.

In the Water Resources Management Project, Anita took part in various training courses related to agriculture techniques and received new seeds. In her own home garden, she then started to grow plant varieties that had never been grown in the village: tomatoes, sweet pepper, pumpkin and cucumber.

Anita was able to sell part of her crop yield and could then buy writing pads and pens for her children to use in school.

The next objective in the village is to improve water supply and to reduce unnecessary use of water. They intend to reuse domestic grey water for irrigation.

Ville Vuorensola

The author works as Project Assistant at the Department for the Americas and Asia in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Water Resources Management Project in the Far West

  • The project is supported by local municipalities, the Government of Nepal, Finland since 2006, and the European Union since 2017.
  • In 2016–2022, Finland supports the project by EUR 15 million, the EU’s support is EUR 20 million.
  • The project is implemented in the Far West region and Karnali provinces in western Nepal.
  • The main goal is to decrease poverty and to promote health by improving water management.
  • The project helps local people to improve their livelihoods and to build resilience to climate change and natural disasters, and improves the administration of water systems.
  • Approximately 200 people in Nepal are employed in the project.
  • The planning and implementation of the project takes mainly place in village committees and cooperatives.