Photo Credit: Utsav Maden / ICIMOD
Bimala Bajagain, a farmer and mother of three, wears a fading red kurta and appears older than her age at 35. She offers us plates of salted guavas at the porch of her quake-damaged house. By mid-day, October’s warm sun boils over Kalchebesi village of Kavrepalanchok district. Bajagain insists we also savour a plate of cucumbers.
“We managed to build our temporary shelter from initial government funds and assistance from an INGO,” Bajagain shares, nodding toward a small hovel constructed of corrugated steel, right beside her cow shed.
“But this structure will have to be rebuilt for winter – the steel heated up unbearably in the summer and now it will turn very cold.”
Bajagain plans to reinforce her shelter with plywood for insulation, which she will fund with a loan from a local cooperative, and eventually pay with income from selling her vegetables, if the water holds out.
“We have scarcity of water during the summer due to erratic rainfall. This year, it poured torrentially for a day but halted for the rest of the season.”
Rows of bitter gourds hang from climbers suspended atop a wired roof. They look ripe for picking, and Bajagain explains that mulching has helped her crops retain moisture through dry spells, sustaining her income.
“It involves nothing more than digging a hole for placing organic manure, sowing the seed and covering it with hay as a protective layer,” she says. The results are obvious: “I had sown my bitter gourd seeds in February this year – six months on, I am still harvesting, whereas last year, the manure dried quickly and the harvest lasted only four months.”
Bajagain says her income has nearly doubled compared to the year before, thanks to the extra water. Donor funds for reconstruction still haven’t been distributed by the government, even eight months since the quake. The extra money from her increased harvest of potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and bitter gourd will be all she has to fund both the better winter shelter and support her children’s education.
Bajagain may have high hopes, but she has good reason to remain concerned.
“The total annual rainfall in Kavrepalanchok is not changing, and it is not projected to change,” says Laxmi Dutta Bhatta, ecosystem management specialist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu. “It is the pattern of rainfall that is changing – there are heavier, more intense downpours which lead to flooding. What we need is sustainable rainfall that the soil can absorb and which re-charges the ground water.”
Farmers in the neighbouring village of Patlekhet have also found climate-smart ways to adapt.