An example of how a remittance-based economy can wreck thriving agriculture in one of Nepal’s most fertile valleys
PICS: YUBARAJ SHRESTHA
FADING GREEN: Samjhana Regmi and her neighbours plant paddy seedlings last week in Lekhnath, as Pokhara’s rapid urbanisation engulfs what used to be fertile fields that grew a rich diversity of rice varieties.
Lekhnath Municipality is a vivid example of how a remittance-based economy can wreck thriving agriculture in one of Nepal’s most fertile valleys.
When Samjhana Regmi got together with women from neighbouring households to plant paddy here last week, it was on a tiny water-logged patch hemmed in by new buildings.
Regmi is planting rice even though her husband, Hari, who has been working in Dubai for two years, told her it doesn’t make sense to work so hard in the fields anymore: she should just buy rice in the market from the money he sends her.
But even though Samjhana feels tied to the land and enjoys growing food for the family, there are only women and older people to help in the fields.
Another effect of out-migration is that most families here invest savings from the money they earn abroad to build new houses on their fertile farms. Lekhnath was wide open paddy fields till as recently as 15 years ago, today it is a jumble of houses on either side of the highway as Pokhara expands its tentacles eastwards.
Farmers from the surrounding mountains have abandoned their terraces to buy roadside property here, which is slightly cheaper than in Pokhara itself.
“Most of the urbanisation was in the last three years, now more than 70% of paddy fields are gone, and even the remaining land has been bought up by real estate developers,” says Ward Committee Chair Kamal Bahadur Thapa, who blames the lack of local government for the unplanned growth.
The irrigated fields of Pokhara and Lekhnath used to be famous for their rice diversity, with famous varieties like Jetho Budo, Jhinua, Ramani and Sili, but many of them are now on the verge of extinction.
“Even on the remaining fields, most of the rice is of the hybrid or imported varieties, our own rice is being lost,”
says farmer Sabitri Bhandari, 54, whose father sold all the family's land to property developers.
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