Being a farmer in Nepal once meant living in isolation and loneliness, faraway from the world. Not any more.
With the road network now reaching nearly every VDC of every district in the country, far-flung hamlets are only hours away from cities. But even more importantly, satellite tv, mobile phones and the internet have connected the hinterland to the centre.
Farmer Surya Mohan Bastola in his farm. Farmer Surya Mohan Bastola in his farm. Majhthana is a small village near Begnas Lake, 30 km east of Pokhara. The only way to get there in the past was to walk the whole day from the Prithvi Highway. Now there is a rough road that winds up the mountains to reach the settlement. It may still seem like you are in the middle of nowhere when you get to Majhthana, but farmers are using their new income to buy tvs hooked up to satellite dishes, checking Facebook on their smart phones and hooking up their laptops to internet dongles.
“My favourite channels are National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet,” says 49- year-old farmer Surya Mohan Bastola. When there is no electricity, he listens to the radio, and is mostly tuned into to the agriculture programs on FM, LI-BIRD ko Chautari and Krishi Karyakram.
Bastola has received little agricultural training, but he is learning new words like ‘organic farming’ and ‘permaculture’. He now knows how important it is to make farming sustainable, and use alternatives to pesticides and chemical fertilisers. “We have not thought about migrating to the city,” says Surya’s wife, Sita Devi. “Our children are working abroad, but we talk to them every day on our mobiles so it doesn’t feel like they are far away.” Sita Devi carries her mobile wrapped up in her patuka, even when she is working in the fields.
Sita Devi, wife of Surya Mohan Bastola, talking on her mobile phone. Sita Devi, wife of Surya Mohan Bastola, talking on her mobile phone. The mobile phone and the tv are gifts from the Bastolas’ youngest son who works in Qatar. The parents believe that one day he will come back and take over the farm.
“You have to make your son Lahure so that they value their home more,” explains Surya. Indeed, their youngest son loves working in the farm and is planning to return. His decision has been made easier because Majhthana is not remote anymore and the quality of life is even better than in the city. Paradoxically, this is exactly what tourists come to look for in Nepal. The remote village life where there is no technology except for a few books has become one of the ideals of Western world. This has led many farmers to establish home-stay eco-villages to augment income. Furthermore, tourists often fall in love with Nepal’s countryside, and are willing to support local schools or households in buying communication technology. This in return makes people stay in the countryside.
Says Surya Bastola: “Being in the middle of nature is like meditation, it brings peace to your mind, body and soul, and maybe make us live longer. But now we are connected to the whole world from here.”
Merilin Piipuu in Pokhara