Lam Pham, KM and Communication Specialist, IFAD Vietnam
As the Learning Route continues its journey in Nepal, we feature today one of the most active participants, Ms. Sushila Kumari Thapa Magar. Being the Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor of the High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP) in Surkhet, Mid-Western Region of Nepal since last year, she is now development worker for ten years. Sushila will provide her observations and some lessons learn by participating in the Learning Route herself and why these are important to her context, report Pham Tung Lam from the field.
1. Could you share with us your expectation in participating in the Learning Route please?
First of all, there are 3 other colleagues from HVAP who also participate in this Learning Route. Our project addresses social-economic barriers in Nepal by facilitating market-based solutions in value chain development.
Personally, I heard about the Learning Route from colleagues who participated in the 1st phase of this program. After they participated in the program, they shared what they did and learned as well as the process of the Learning Route in the PMU.
At the beginning, I was not clear about the Learning Route, though I knew it is about finding the best practice and learning from it. Being part of this Learning Route, I wanted to explore more about the innovations going around in different projects and different areas. I also wanted to know about how they are involving woman and socially-excluded groups in their programs. Finally, I would like to find out if there are pro-poor and gender friendly tools and technologies so that I can adapt them in my work areas, as well as the process about getting inclusive innovations.
2. What are some of the challenges you face in your work context?
Specific challenges I face in my work context are inclusion of women in different activities that we organize since women in our areas have low level of leadership now. Sometimes, they really want to try something new, but they cannot. This is because of lack of information, gender-friendly technologies and tools, as well as finance. For example, women are interested in doing commercial off-season vegetables but they lack tools and technologies which would be time-efficient, handy and cheap.
For excluded communities, they face other challenges such as they do not have access to productive resources like land and finance. Further they are mostly illiterate and do not have information where they can get technical assistance and services from. Sometimes they may also lack institutional or group mechanism to get organized. Even if they are organized, they are not strong enough.
On the other hand, there are risk-averse people whom cannot go for the commercial farming because they fear of failure.
3. What do you think about the strengths of the cases selected for the Learning Route?
I think this Learning Route is all about learning together with and from local communities based on the experiences and learning from their successes and failures.
We observed quite a few best practices around three districts and each case has its own strengths that we can learn from. In Kavre, the good lessons were with this the Leasehold Forestry. In particular positive change in their livelihoods if they have access to natural resources like land where they plant fodders, grasses which serve as a source of direct income and base for animal husbandry. Furthermore, it can also be source of raw materials which support income generating activities like briquette and indirectly for dairy via animal husbandry.
In the district of Chitwan, it was women empowerment which proves stronger than what I have ever seen before in other localities. Empowerment is seen in terms of organizing themselves, leadership, innovation, dismantling traditional and removing social barriers which prevent women from being entrepreneurs and self-decisive.
4. What have you seen in Kapilvastu which could be interesting and relevant for you?
The context of Kapilvastu is very different and complex than we saw in other districts. Specially, I was impressed that the bottom of the pyramid groups which can be really strong when they unite together. Women in Kapilvastu seem less vocal but in their context this is way far they have come. Culturally, they have to be bounded within four walls and are not allowed to talk with outsiders. Now not only they talk, they can also express their view, even understand and speak Nepali in front of mass audience even though their own dialect is Awadi. It’s pround to say that household-chores has been shared by men. Also, men support their wives and allow them to attend public meetings, workshops and trainings.
I really appreciate the way they try to include “differently-abled people” in their program and the loans they are providing is good enough for farmers to start their own business.
5. Based on what you have observed, seen and probably learned, what are the most important things that you plan to take home with?
To be honest, one can compare Learning Route as an exposure visit but this is much more transformative. It does not only expose you to the best practices, learn and adapt it, and but also provides learning opportunities to the visited communities, thus it is mutually beneficial process. In my view, it prepares local communities to be good presenters and good leaders, communicate what they really want to show to others in a systematic way. I have been using exposure visits and SWOT analysis tools in my context, but this Learning Route has combined both and made it a stronger tool for both learning and reflection as a process.
What I really take home are the key factors that community values should be the starting points of any development project. But sometime we need to facilitate them on what are the opportunities that we can build upon.
As the Learning Route expected, I am positive that some of the community representatives can be really resource persons in the future in our project areas as technical persons. This has provided avenue to collaborate and work jointly in future days.
This Learning Route has also re-emphasized that empowerment and economic activities should go hand in hand and the innovation plan is perfectly one of the good initiatives to build upon the learning they have from Learning Route to implement project activities in their own communities.
As participants are diverse, this can be designed for different levels. In our project context, I see the opportunities for applying this program within and across our value chain in order to learn and reflect within communities. It will motivate learning communities to adapt their best knowledge and encourage communities of practice to put their efforts for improvement.
I see Learning Route as a co-learning program which can disseminate the best practice locally, nationally and internationally as it provides successful cases and explain the factors behind each success. I see the importance of Learning Route to improve our programme practice. I wish Learning Route every success in the days to come.
Thank you very much.
Interaction of Learning Route participants in Chitwan
Kavre community meeting
Ms. Sushila Kumari Thapa Magar
Presentation of the community map of Chitwan
Representatives from Bijwa cooperative in Kapilvastu
Presenting merit certificate to Chitwan women group