Permaculture: Stricken by drought years ago, a Nepal village comes back to life

Hundreds left Kurule Tenupa village in Nepal’s Dhankuta district a decade ago; they are now returning home to newer ways of farming

By Raman Paudel
Published: Monday 15 March 2021
Permaculture farming is gaining traction in Nepal's Dhankuta district. Photo:
Permaculture farming is gaining traction in Nepal's Dhankuta district. Photo: Permaculture farming is gaining traction in Nepal's Dhankuta district. Photo:

A spell of drought 10 years ago had pushed hundreds of families out of Kurule Tenupa village in Nepal’s Dhankuta district. A thrust for permaculture, however, is bringing them back.

“I returned to Kurule Tenupa after 15 years and thought of starting a hotel in the local market. But then, I saw two friends practicing permaculture farming, and that prompted me to give it a try too,” said Dirghaman Tamang (47).

Tamang was among the villagers who shifted homes. But now, with village ponds reinstated to life and permaculture gaining traction, villagers are returning home.

Lokendra Yakha (58), for example, claimed promising returns from permaculture. A two-time president of the local civic ward, he wants to permanently move to farming.

More than 500 families migrated out of the village a decade ago when ponds started drying up, claimed Bhoj Kumar Kafle, a local farmer, adding that as many as 54 ponds dried at a single location. At least 950 families currently live in the village. 

Permaculture is an approach to agricultural design that focuses on whole systems thinking, as well as using or simulating patterns from nature. It allows farmers a way to achieve high yields and productivity while doing it in a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way. 

Learning ground

In 2015, conservationists Priyanka Bista and Rajeev Goyal launched an initiative to train farmers to discover newer ways of farming in Dhankuta’s neighbouring district Morang. One, they started ‘Learning Grounds’— open classrooms or labs for school students and farmers — where they are given lessons on plantation and harvesting.

Bista and Goyal also train farmers on permaculture, along with inculcating traditional knowledge of farming practices and rare medicinal plants in the youth.

As of now, more than a dozen local farmers are a part of ‘Learning Ground’ curriculum and are learning permaculture method in Kurule-Tenupa. They plant new fruits and vegetables every season.

Students from the seventh grade come to ground every week, said Goyal. More than 50 local farmers from Koshi to Kanchanjangha are a part of at least six Learning Grounds and teach school students.

“Most of our work over the past year concentrated on acquiring land for local Learning Grounds, creating a concept for classes and engaging local communities in their stewardship and design,” said Goyal.

Their signature project for 2021 is Pragati Chowk Learning Grounds that will function as a youth training space; and ICT lab for research and media work; and a place to store biodiversity data.

The farmers involved also build fences for the Learning Grounds using local bamboo. All construction and design activities engage local youth and farmers.

Rajkumar Singh, a local farmer in Koshi Tappu said they have been guiding local school students and other youths to identify rare birds and wild animals as well.

Signs of hope

The village had at least 30 natural ponds before the drought, according to villagers.

“We had to walk for more than three hours to get drinking water. The water scarcity affected agriculture,” said Gopi Bhandari, a local consumer right activist.

The villagers have been digging ponds for five years now to solve the water problem; as many as 60 such ponds have already been constructed. A few more are in the pipeline for 2021, added Gopi.

Digging plastic ponds and practicing permaculture have rung in a newness to age-old practises. But the villagers are happy.

“Now we believe in ourselves. Managing water and creating a green zone for ourselves is a big deal,” said Tamang.

Meanwhile, the villagers have been welcoming tourists after a prolonged lull brought by the COVID-19 crisis. They have been pushing organic and permaculture as agro-tourism.

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