Do you know where your food comes from?

Monday, July 16, 2018

by Sharon Luttmer, Summer Volunteer


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Yesterday, we had the opportunity to go rice planting with the children of the Kopila Valley School. It was an incredible experience, not only for me as an outsider, but also for the children that have been living here their whole lives. While some of the students had participated in rice-planting before, many more hadn’t, making for a unique and memorable day.

Agriculture still is Nepal's principal economic activity, and it is estimated that about 70% of the population in Nepal earns its income from growing rice and other crops, such as corn and barley.  Agricultural work is often done by women, and in recent history, children, who can move quickly and easily in the fields. However, more and more children are attending school, even in the poorer regions of the country, and as a result, some of the skills and knowledge children would have acquired from this work are being lost.  While they receive education in beautiful classrooms, they dream of a profession as a teacher, doctor or a nurse, and the teachers do their best to let the children dream of whatever future they want. In all this dreaming, however, there is little regard to the importance and value of agricultural work, which accounts for more than 30% of Nepal’s gross domestic product. A lesser side effect of a generally good development.

As a result of being in school full time, fewer and fewer children know the importance of agriculture and can tell where their food comes from. To overcome this problem, Kopila Valley School is trying to take learning beyond the walls of the classrooms by producing agricultural crops of all kinds at the new campus, as well as partnering with local co-op farms. This teaches the students to recognize the importance of agriculture, learn about sustainable farming and economies, and lets the students get to know the profession in an attractive way, while building bridges within the community.

It was because of this initiative that I found myself in a bus yesterday, heading to one of the fields of a local co-op farmer who supplies the school with rice for the lunches. With about 40 students in classes 9-11, we made our way to the plantation. The rice paddies had already been prepared by the farmer, and so after a short introduction, instructions, and a blessing, we could immediately start planting.  Around us, we saw farm workers who were preparing the paddies, some with buffalo, some with a tractor, and some with hand tools. Some fields were already planted, with emerald-green plants thick and ready to spread. Others had been spread already, with tiny green shoots swimming in the water and mud. The hills in the distance, dusted with low-flying clouds, painted a beautiful picture that helped to ease the back-breaking work of the planting.

Some students had planted rice before at their homes,  or working the fields as children. For others, it was the first time. The experienced women who helped us with planting went at least three times as fast as I did, popping the plants into the water at a speed that neither I nor the students could match. Despite the hard work, everyone had fun, taking occasional time-outs from the work to have mud fights, which seemed to escalate for a moment, and then disappear, before reappearing later as splashing and laughter could be heard in the unplanted paddies. At the end of the afternoon, we had managed to plant a lot of fields, and the landowner was satisfied. We had done a good job, and saved them hiring extra people to finish the big job.

Satisfied, tired and VERY muddy, we were taken back to the school by bus. It was an educational and wonderful day, but the realization of how much heavy work it requires from farmers to be able to produce a fair amount of rice was sobering. The fields we planted today, in over four hours, with nearly 50 people, will only feed one family of five for a year - if the harvest is good. I will never look at rice the same again.

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