Tomatoes Help Keep Nepalese Men at Home After Earthquake
37-year-old Som Bahadur Tamang studiously makes his way up and down the rows of young tomato seedlings; watering and de-weeding them with a tenderness and care not often seen. They are precious commodities that mark a new future for him. A future in which he won’t need to go abroad like some many of his compatriots to earn a living, but can stay at home with his wife and three children.
Before the April 2015 earthquake Som and his family had around 400 chickens whose eggs they sold as their main source of income. However, all were killed by the quake and he was left without a home or any real source of income.
When CARE came to his village of Chap he was one of the first to sign up to the tomato growing scheme where CARE and its local partner came and provided tomato seeds and training on how to grow and properly look after the tomatoes. They provided also provided pesticides and the materials to construct a basic greenhouse.
“I was doing potato farming before,” says Som, “but I wanted to grow vegetables in my village as well… I have found a passion for agriculture. Instead of going to other villages carrying eggs, I would now like to carry tomatoes.”
Up until now Som and his fellow villagers had to walk 30-45 minutes to a nearby village to buy tomatoes, at a higher price. Now, he can save money on this food staple and sell his surplus for profit. He is adamant, however, that he will only sell them for market price and no more. “I don’t want to cheat my brothers and sisters,” he says.
Tomatoes are a mainstay of the Nepalese diet – used in almost every dish from pickles to meat marinades. “I am hoping that I can inspire my community and show tomato farming can be profitable and we can make money here without having to go abroad,” says Som. “Instead of importing from other countries – if we can grow vegetables in our own village its better and more fresh,” he adds.
The tomato growing scheme is helping people make a living going forward but it is also, as importantly, averting the huge exodus of labour to the Gulf and other countries that is characteristic of modern day Nepal.
“I’ve seen some people go abroad,” says Som; “wherever we go we have to work hard and struggle so it’s better to stay here and work hard and produce fresh food for my village and if there is an excess we can sell it and be profitable.”
Som’s neighbor Budran adds that most of the village – at least fifty per cent – are still paying off loans they took out to build houses and have no idea how they will finish paying them off, let alone take out new ones.
But Som is optimistic – tomatoes are easier to grow than other crops and they have more frequent yields, while taking up less space than the crops he previously grew, so he envisages being able to eventually make a good living off them.
CARE is also planning longer term livelihoods interventions in addition to the seed distributions. Cash transfers and different, skills-based activities are being rolled out in order to empower people to build back themselves. Livelihoods support and providing people with an income is the key to the recovery process; whether it be rebuilding of shelter – still the biggest need – or giving people purpose and hope once again after the terrible tragedy.
As Som says; “all we want is to be self-sufficient and support ourselves.”