World farm voices, Nepal: “But we don’t have other jobs!”

by: Natasha Chart

First in a series of interviews with farmers affiliated with La Via Campesina, an alliance of international peasant farmer organizations.

Prabina Pradhan works in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, as an advocacy organizer for the All Nepal Peasants Federation. She talked with me about the economic and climate situations in her country, and how people’s lives are being affected.

Pradhan explained that most people in Nepal have small kitchen gardens to provide much of their food, and may earn some money selling any extra harvest at market. Agriculture there is mostly rainfed and highly dependent on a changing climate cycle.

“The crop cycle is getting shorter now”, said Pradhan. Also, the growth range for tropical crops is moving into higher latitudes of the Nepalese mountains that formerly were good for temperate crops. Add in food imports mandated by WTO agreements, often sold below production costs, and it becomes hard for the typical Nepalese to thrive.

What did she think of the climate agreements, like the Clean Development Mechanism or the REDD forest funding program, would they help? “Earning money is not the solution if the land and water and environment [are] polluted,” said Pradhan, “we can’t have clean air by money.”

While Pradhan thought there should be compensation to poorer nations for the environmental damage they’re seeing alreeady, that they shouldn’t have to trade with their environments for the sake of developed nations who refused to cut their emissions. She said she thought the rich nations didn’t want to spend a lot money to reduce their own emissions, but instead wanted to give only a little money to reduce emissions in other countries.

I told Pradhan that I’ve heard people in the US say that it’s better for subsistence agriculture, like that in Nepal, to go away anyhow. That it would be better for people to get other jobs and not worry about agricultural problems caused by climate, like the ones she’s seeing.

“But we don’t have other jobs!” she exclaimed, saying further that 67 percent of Nepalese depend on agriculture and most of the people are illiterate. She said they couldn’t just push all that away. “In the United States,” she said, “… people can do anything they like, but we can’t.”