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Nepal's Scythe Initiative

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An Update and Video from Alexander Vido in Victoria, BC:

 

 

What were the main goals and results of the Scythe Project In Nepal - SPIN?

The main objective of the SPIN pilot project was to bring scythes to the Nepali farmers for evaluation.
The response we received was very positive and we were encouraged by the Nepali people to proceed with the project in the near future.

How did things get started and were there any initial challenges either in Victoria or Nepal?

The SPIN project is a result of my two trips to Nepal in the past where I observed grain being harvested with a sickle and strongly believed that the scythe would make a big difference.
Upon [my] return to Canada I connected with Chris Evans from the UK, the adviser for a volunteer organization based in the Himalayan Permaculture Centre (HPC) in Baragaun, in the hills of Nepal. Through HPC, I made contacts and planned the SPIN project. It took four months to get the ducks in a row. The biggest obstacle was raising sufficient funds for the SPIN initiative. A lot of time was spent on writing and rewriting proposals, in meetings, [and] presenting my ideas to the business community in Victoria, sadly with no tangible results. 

It felt as though the project would not happen, but the scything community scattered all over Canada and the USA came to the rescue. I individually contacted dozens of farmers who are presently using a scythe, explaining the SPIN initiative to them, and they contributed generously. By the beginning of March 2012, my sixteen year old son, Gabriel, and I were set to go. Once in Nepal, we were efficient, well connected, and ready to work.

What were your personal impressions and experiences entering the community in Nepal and meeting the people? Tell us a little bit about the Nepali community, the farming and the people.

Our contact in Kathmandu was Shyam, at Sunrise Farm, where we stayed for a couple of days to organize ourselves and collect parcels with scythe blades donated from Turkey to Nepal. Pramin, Shyam's daughter, helped us deal with customs and purchase our tickets for a 16 hour bus ride going West to Surkhet district.

In the morning, after a long and bumpy ride, we arrived in the village of Gumi, spread in the basin of the River Beri. The following day we continued on foot to the Himalayan Permaculture Centre based in Baragaun, a small village over the mountain ridge and about a seven hour hike from Gumi. Here we connected with Chris Evans, our contact from the UK. We were happy to be there learning about the life in farming villages and the work HPC was doing there.

Due to crop diversity and variety of micro-climates in the village, the wheat harvest is spread over a period of one month. Wheat on the upper end of the village can still be green, while down by the river it is already ripe. In Baragaun, grain crops were still green and not ready for several weeks to come; therefore, we went back to Gumi where the wheat was ready to harvest.

We spent three great and prolific weeks in the village of Gumi, staying with a local family who was connected with HPC. Here, two extended families in two neighbouring households shared their work responsibilities, taking care of children and meal preparations, with the grandparents always cheerfully participating. The baby was cared for by all members of the extended family unless, of course, it was feeding time.

Milan, the oldest son was working on the farm during the day and attending college classes for four hours in the late afternoon. A regular day started shortly before dawn with a small breakfast of flat bread served with curd and followed by morning chores. Work on this farm wasn't stressful, but steady. Jobs done by a group of women were usually accompanied by singing and laughter. At 11 AM, we sat down to a meal of 'dal bhat' and returned to work until mid afternoon when a small snack was eaten. After dark had fallen, it was once more time for  'dal bhat' to be eaten. I loved it and Gabriel too, but Gabriel had a hard time eating 'dal bhat' two times a day for three weeks and was craving the western foods. We felt welcomed and privileged to be a part of their daily lives. The family members were supportive and looked out for each other, and we had the good fortune to be a part of their home.

What was the reaction of the community to the initiative itself?

We brought 28 scythe blades with us from Canada and all the required accessories. An additional 33 blades were donated from the Turkish company, Gunas, and 4 blades from Härmän Taonta Oy in Finland were mailed directly to Nepal. We brought and left behind basic hand tools for fitting blades, which proved to be essential because obtaining tools in the village would have been impossible. While we waited for the wheat to ripen, we were fitting the scythe blades onto wildwood snaths that we made right there and taught a couple of young farmers the principals of fitting a blade onto a snath.

Before leaving Victoria, I constructed a grain cradle that I brought with me for the project. I was pleased and relieved that it worked really well, protecting the precious grain while it was being cut. Any crop in Nepal is treated with utmost respect and, therefore, it's not acceptable to 'mess it up'. This proved to be a challenge, a catch-22 situation, where we had no grass to practice on and the wheat couldn't be cut slightly green or sacrificed for teaching purposes. In the villages where we stayed they do not feed grain to the animals, nor do they grow grass for hay, only straw, cooked bran and fodder from mulberry bushes is used as feed for livestock.

Midway through our stay in the village we connected with Bhanu Pokharel of the Nepali Agricultural Research Council (NARC). He invited us to present the scythe at the upcoming convention in Kathmandu. There we met with Shreemat Shrestha of the NARC Engineering department. Here they could not believe that the scythe is an ancient technology, saying "How come we have not heard of it until now?"  For us, the meetings with the Agriculture officials and researchers was confirmation that the scythe definitely has a place in Nepali agriculture.

The researchers at NARC are aware of the difficulties facing farmers in Nepal. They try to address such concerns as food security and the need to produce food on small farms in the hills; the increasing migration of young villagers to urban centres which contributes to urban poverty; the high number of men working in foreign countries as unskilled labour to support their families in Nepal; the lack of necessary finances for suitable machinery; the shortage of labour at harvest time the lack of efficient access to farms located in the hill regions; and, last but not least, they grapple with the effects of climate change. For all these reasons, the NARC Engineering department is looking for innovative but simple technologies that can be locally reproduced and will make a difference in the daily lives of Nepali people, especially those living in the hill regions of Nepal.

What were some of the greatest successes, both expected and unexpected, of the SPIN project?

The greatest achievement is the invitation back to continue with the SPIN initiative and make the scythe available to more Nepali farmers. The scythe was well received and it is clear that Nepali farmers, especially in the hill regions, would highly benefit from using this tool. Upon our return to Canada, we received an email from NARC, where they informed us that Nepal is facing serious labour shortages in farming and government agencies must work on improving this situation. It was reported that it takes between 150 to 200 man hours to harvest one hectare of grain; whereas, the use of scythe in harvesting grains would improve this situation significantly. To fully integrate the use of the scythe in Nepali harvest practices, however, will take continuous and collaborative efforts between all parties involved: the SPIN initiative, the Nepali agricultural departments, the Nepali farming communities and philanthropists.

Looking ahead

The first phase of the scythe initiative provided us with constructive information on what is essential for the future. We will continue to work in village of Gumi, where we've established valuable contacts. 

To make the second phase efficient, a few important points should be considered:

* The timing for the SPIN project is firmly tied to the harvest period when the crop is ready and all the components have to be in place at this time.

* A lot can be accomplished in three weeks, if a reliable local contact, an organizer in the village, can be available for the whole project. People are busy, their days are filled with jobs and duties to provide and move forward; therefore, it is not easy for a local person to take time to help us without due planning and remuneration.

* Securing a suitable area to work on, experiment and to train on is needed. For example, the NARC's research centre has a working field that is later purchased by local farmers to harvest. An arrangement to collaborate in this exchange can be made.

* A willing group of participants needs to be organized prior to harvest time. The group of workshop participants will have to reserve time to learn as much as possible and then pass it on to others.

* A full time translator for efficient communication is needed. Some people do speak a little English but I found out how easy it is to lose meaning in translation. To avoid miscommunication, it is essential to have a competent translator that is interested in the project.

I know from experience, that skill building is an integral part of the SPIN project. To learn the proper use of the scythe is essential because a well maintained tool is efficient, easier to use and lasts longer. Solid skills lead to self sufficiency, resilience and empowerment. I observed that in Nepal, the level of skills and craftsmanship could be improved upon to enhance the everyday life in the villages. Nepali government recognizes that a lack of vocational training leads to young people entering the labour force without adequate skills, which leads to low pay and often lack of safety at the job. Vocational training is often overlooked in the name of academic education; however, it has a direct impact on the level of poverty in Nepali countryside. Nepal would greatly benefit if the educational system would embrace skill building as an integral component of the local economy in order to pursue basic prosperity. Solid skills and trades spark interest and inspire innovation on a very basic level of communal life.

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