Even the smallest of candles can reveal the patterns on the walls – the undertones of reality.

-The founding principle of the Tuki Association | Translated from Nepali

On 2nd March 2023, the Tuki Association of Dolakha and Sindupalchowk districts celebrated its 45th anniversary which was attended by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. The event highlighted the impact the organization has made on the lives of farmers and agricultural workers.

Photo by Bhimsen Shrestha

President Bhandari, speaking at the event, stressed the need for Nepal’s self-reliance in agricultural production and also pointed out the possible role that Dolakha and Sindupalchowk districts can play as a three-way trade route between Nepal, China, and India.

The founder of the organization, Dr. Krishna Kumar Panday, gave a keynote speech highlighting the importance of grassroots-level development and the role the organization can play in the future. Almost half a century ago, after completing his Ph.D. at ETH University in Switzerland, Panday returned to Nepal as an agronomist. He traveled the region and witnessed both the struggles and strength of the people. Teaming up with the local community, he created the concept of ‘Tuki.’

Photo by Bhimsen Shrestha. | Dr. Krishna Kumar Panday (pictured) speaking at the event.

The concept revolves around training people from the local communities to become self-reliant and be able to earn for themselves. Furthermore, they should go on to train and help other people, thus spreading the light. These people would be called ‘Tuki.’ Today, the organization works in many different sectors including agriculture, women empowerment, education, structural development, entrepreneurship, and sanitation.

The organization has many different branches that work from the district level to the municipal level. In an interview, Purshartha Shrestha, Executive Director of the association, explained their current goals and challenges. “To be able to work effectively at the grassroots level, we have been implementing the idea of ‘Jara-Juri’ since our founding.”

The aim is to connect with people and also connect people with each other to boost the communal economy.

“We are currently partnering with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which provides technical support for our agricultural projects,” says Shrestha. “We have also been working with FORUT – an organization from Norway – in the sector of sanitation, education, and healthcare for women and young girls since 2008.”

A major project of the organization was the creation of a soil testing lab, which has been instrumental in elevating the farming yields of the region. Any farming venture relies heavily on the quality of the soil. Understanding the composition of the soil can help determine what crops would grow better in the area. Dawa Tamang, the technician who runs the lab, walked us through the process of soil testing. Samples are sent from all over the region and the tests are paid for by the farmers sending their samples. It is a sort of microcosm of Research & Development (R&D) in the field of agriculture.

A new, bigger lab building is under construction at the headquarters, which will increase the speed and scale of testing. During the 45th anniversary exhibition, President Bhandari participated in a mini soil testing activity. Dawa Tamang is ecstatic about it.

Since the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) played a vital role in the progress of rural areas in Nepal, Tuki had a strong partnership with the organization from the beginning. They had a history of running programs together up until 2010 when the SDC pulled out of Dolakha. During the time of the SDC partnership, the Swiss agency covered 20 percent of the overhead costs. Over time, the organization has spread across the two districts in its memberships and activities. However, according to Purshartha Shrestha, the last decade has been a struggle in bringing in and managing funds. To run a strong grassroots-level organization, proper funds need to be ensured.

“While foreign organizations have been funding projects for us, the overhead costs are still an issue,” says Shrestha. Currently, the organization has been running on a yearly turnover of 5 to 6 crore Nepalese rupees, but the future seems to be on thin ice.

Photo courtesy – Tuki Association | Pictured: Swiss politician and former member of The Swiss Federal Council Arnold Koller with Tuki Association.

During the 10-minute video shown at the event, citizens like Devkumari Bohara spoke about her cauliflower yields and how Tuki training has helped her provide better food for her family and her community. She currently runs multiple greenhouse farms. Similarly, Lakshmi Thami emphasized how she has learned the importance of teaching others in her community the skills she learned at the Tuki Association.

“For long-term change, we need continuity – and the Tuki Association strives to provide that continuity,” says Jaya Prasad Dahal. “We have to expand to other districts and are working on bringing our concept and work to more parts of Nepal.”

In a brief interview over breakfast, Mukunda Dahal – Program Manager at the Tuki Association – expressed his concern. Having worked in the organization for decades, he is a firm believer and a first-hand witness of the positive change that their work has brought. With the 45th anniversary presenting an opportunity to reflect and showcase their impact over time, it has also created an air of hope and anticipation for what the future may bring.