We are entering Year 6 of the almond project, and our Program Director, Parshu Dahal, summed it up for me last month, “The expansion is very big—and the enthusiasm among farmers is very great!”
The project has grown to include more than 200 farmer families in 20 organized collectives, across a wide swathe of Western Nepal. More than 2000 almond trees have been planted, and we have also secured additional funding from local governments and a regional NGO. The local almond industry is nearly self-sustaining, with farmers producing new saplings (cuttings that can be planted) from their existing trees, building nurseries where they know how to do grafting, and a strong local demand for almonds. Families in malnourished areas are eating almonds for protein and will sell any extras at their local market.
When CLN & our local partner SODEC started this project in 2013, we planted a demonstration plot of 250 trees to prove—to local farmers and to other funders, who are both typically risk-averse groups—that almonds could be grown in Nepal. Almond trees had been tested by agricultural researchers but they had not been grown commercially by local farmers anywhere in Nepal.
Early trees were also planted by ~50 families who planted 1-10 trees each. Those trees are now producing 2-20 lbs of nuts per family, which they consume, to offset malnutrition and food shortages. That may not sound like much, but these families are among the poorest in Nepal. The annual per capita income in the region is $474, compared to the national average of $1028. Most people here are underweight—they don’t have enough rice, corn, or millet for the entire year, and they very rarely eat any meat. Almonds are now an important protein source for these families, even at a few pounds per year. The families are also generating saplings from their existing trees. The saplings are planted on their own land, donated to neighbors to help others in the community, and are occasionally purchased as the program expands to new areas.
These 50 families now have 1600 trees planted so they will have more and more almonds as later-planted trees begin to mature and produce. It takes time and patience to see results from these types of projects, but these trees will live for 35 years or more. Farmers understand the economic and nutritional value of almond farming and are building a source of income for their children and grandchildren.
CLN often provides seed grants for difficult-to-fund projects and innovative ideas. Our local partners then build the program to a point where it has demonstrated success and can attract other funding and resources to sustain it—whether that’s a children’s home or a new cash crop. For the almond project, we brought together technical knowledge about growing and processing, grassroots mobilization of farmer collectives, and local government resources to develop a viable new organic crop. Most of the program is now funded by government and local non-profits who are supporting the expansion and planting of almonds in new villages.
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