“I lost my husband 17 years ago, “says Tara Pariyar. “He died at the time the conflict in Nepal was at its peak. I still don’t live as comfortably as to when he was around, however things are improving. For a long time I needed to do things that I now don’t have to – like asking people for food.”
When I first met her in her village in Jumla distirct, Tara Pariyar, 40, was brushing her teeth and constantly looking towards the faraway horizon. “I am just taking a pause from my morning chores – getting a grip over things that need to be done today as I hardly get time to think the rest of the day.”
Tara is one of several women in the Jumla district who are always struggling to keep their families afloat despite all odds. She has raised her three children, all on her own, cultivating apples in her farm.
Tara earlier struggled to make ends meet. However, in 2020, after hail ravaged her apple trees, Tara Pariyar did not have need to stand in line for cash handouts as in previous years when three quarters of her apple produce were destroyed.
Instead, she received a payout of 4220 Nepali rupees after enrolling in a crop insurance scheme for farmers grappling with recurring erratic weather linked to a warming climate. “I used the payout to buy food, pay school fees and buy new saplings,” said Tara who lives in Tila village in Jumla district. “Earlier, when there used to be a hailstorm, we would be struggle to make our ends meet and the children would sit at home for months until we could get money to send them to school”.
Run by the World Food Programme (WFP), the insurance scheme is one of the growing numbers of initiatives across Nepal aimed at helping vulnerable communities cope with the worsening impacts of climate change.
CAFS Karnali is a joint project of Nepal government, Adaptation Fund and World Food Programme to address the issues of climate change and food insecurities in Karnali Province by increasing the adaptive capacity of climate vulnerable and food insecure poor households by improved management of livelihood assets and natural resources.
On 28 February, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of growing pressure on food production and people’s ability to get enough to eat on a hotter planet, which it said would fuel malnutrition, especially in vulnerable regions like Asia.
But it also pointed to ways farmers can protect their business even as weather and climate extremes worsen. For small-scale farmers in drought-prone areas, for example, climate adaptation projects range from growing different crops, planting drought-tolerant varieties and capturing rainwater to phone-based weather alerts and micro-insurance.
Pariyar, who acquires a sense of satisfaction from farming, says the money generated from selling apples is just enough to fulfil her family’s daily life expenses, including basic foods such as salt, oil, and rice to feed her children. Meanwhile, in the case of savings, with a smile, she informed, “My savings are the investment on my children’s education. I believe supporting my children’s education will provide them with a successful life, unlike mine, full of difficulties.”
Though Pariyar’s major income source is apple farming, she could only afford to grow 16-17 apple trees in her farm during the harvest season “given the lack of finance to invest in new trees,” informed Pariyar. And the income generated from them was barely enough to meet her family’s basic necessities.
However, that’s not the case now. A project in her region (Karnali) called Climate Change Adaptation for Food Security (CAFS) has been assisting her in farming and has granted her free apple saplings. “The project has come into my life as a blessing. It is a source of great relief to me”, she shares.
Farmers in Jumla are gradually getting attracted towards the apple insurance program. Under CAFS Karnali, farmers from 112 households turned to this scheme in 2020 and 30 more households have become a part of this program in 2021 as its covers weather-related risks, saving them from unprecedented loss. Under the insurance program, a farmer is required to pay NPR 42 per tree and receives a compensation of up to NPR 1800 per tree if they are damaged due to drought and up to NPR 500 per tree if they are damaged due to hailstorm depending upon the extent of damage. In 2020, the money was covered by CAFS Karnali project on behalf of all the farmers as many felt insecure in investing in insurance.
When Pariyar is alone, she feels emptiness in her life and misses her husband dearly.
“It would have been so much easier if my husband was still alive. I would never have faced the discrimination that I do as a single woman,” shared Pariyar.
“You call it fate or destiny, but as a widow, life comes with great difficulty. I have been single-handedly working day and night to support my children and their schooling through apple farming and other work,” says Pariyar as tears roll down her eyes.
The single mother who is quite satisfied with farming says the money generated from selling apples is just enough to buy essential food items like salt, oil, and rice to feed her children.
Pariyar walks nearly an hour carrying 60 kilos of apples in a large bamboo basket (doko) on her back from the fields to the collection site to sell her produce. As she has been walking regularly in the difficult rocky trails of the hills, she has developed cracks all over her feet.
Trips to the collection site have also caused her acute head and leg pain while hauling the heavy baskets filled with apples.
“The job is really tiring,” she shares.
Pariyar’s eldest son and her only daughter have already married and shifted homes. Her youngest son is currently studying in eleventh grade in Surkhet district, which is around 235 kilometers from her home. She has also been looking after her younger sister’s children as their parents have gone to India for better employment opportunities.
Apart from apple farming, Pariyar also works in a paddy field. Though the land doesn’t belong to her, it has been supporting her with some extra earnings. Instead of relying on other farm men for help, she works on her own in the fields.
“But doing all of the hard labour alone like ploughing the fields with oxen is arduous,” expressed Pariyar.
Similarly, Pariyar has also been rearing domestic animals and has three cows and six rabbits.
She says, “I will sell each rabbit for NPR 600 once they have grown.”
“I try to save some amount for the education of my children. I may not be able to save much, but I believe that if I can support in their education, then they will be able to live a successful life, unlike mine, which has been full of difficulties,” she adds with a smile.
Besides Jumla, apple farming insurance is gradually gaining grounds in Mugu and Kalikot districts of Karnali Province. Organic apples produced in these regions have high demand in markets across the country.
Jumla, a Himalayan district, is about 900 kilometres west from the country’s capital Kathmandu and where snowfall keeps the temperature cool for extended periods of time, making the conditions favourable for winter crops.
However, in recent years, Jumla has been experiencing an alteration in climatic conditions. There is reduced rainfall and frequent hailstorms causing droughts and thus is a decline in agricultural production.
WFP Nepal’s field coordinator in Jumla, Krishna Bahadur Shahi says, “Before Jumla used to receive a decent amount of rainfall and snow and it used to be good for apple farming. But now with climate change, the rainfall and snow has decreased and hence the farmer’s produce is on the decline. So, this insurance scheme is helping the farmers even when their produce gets destroyed.”
And this climatic alteration affected farmers like Pariyar. Fortunatley, she had insured 16 apple trees and hopes to insure more plants in the coming years.
Meanwhile, she also works part-time at a CAFS Karnali community service centre, which began in 2020 to supplement her income. As part of her work, she crushes stones that are later used in construction purposes.
At the end of all the rigours and tiring work, it’s Pariyar’s strong will power and positivity regarding life that motivates her to work hard.
“I know I need to keep working hard and need to move ahead in my life. I don’t want to give up, at least not for my children,” Pariyar says.