"If there was enough food to eat, I would have gone to school," Ramesh Karki sighs in despair as he rests his load against a wall. His forehead is bruised by the rope holding up the sack of rice he is carrying on his back. Depression, pain and suffering show through his grim expression.
Karki, from Punma VDC of Jajarkot district, is 17. He should be going to college but has never seen the inside of a school. Transporting loads from Chaurjhari airport in Rukum district to different villages is what he has been doing since childhood.
"There is scarcity of food in my village. Since I have not cultivated my land for years I have to carry loads to make a living," he says, as he wipes sweat from his face.
Karnali, Jajarkot, and Bajura, among others, are food-insecure districts in the mid-west. Children are the most affected as the need to earn their keep means they never get to go to school. Many children and youths are seen carrying loads from Chaurjhari and Salli Bajar of Salyan to neighbouring districts. Hundreds of mules transport goods every day.
Some blame the food crisis on infertile land, others on a lack of awareness, and some also blame the lack of development infrastructure and industries. There should be an integrated approach to address the problem. Local crops such as maize, millet, buckwheat, potatoes and squash are abundant, but locals consider only rice food. In fact, mules used transport goods are part of the problem. One mule feeds on grain that would be sufficient for a family of five for a day. The locals feed mules local grain so they can transport rice for them.
The government is largely indifferent to the plight of children in these districts, but political parties, too, show no concerns for the food crisis. Our political culture is such that people feel powerless when they are not in government, though parties could do a lot to create awareness and mobilise locals.