History

Mustard Fields Near Ajamvari Farm, 1994

Harvesting, Gunjanagar, 1994

Brief History of Chitwan Valley

Part of the tarai region that extends along the base of the Himalayan foothills from Northern India through Bhutan, Chitwan Valley was once a vibrant ecosystem of dense jungle, grasslands, and marshes.  Resistant to malaria, the indigenous Tharu farmed, fished, and hunted here.

Farmers from the hills began moving to Chitwan Valley in the 1950s when the government sprayed DDT to eliminate mosquitoes.  The population as well as road, towns, houses grew rapidly.  Except for Chitwan National Park and a few other reserves, the native forests and grasslands mostly disappeared.  Small farms proliferated.

By 1993, agriculture in Chitwan as in much of the world, faced a crisis.  Taking advantage of flat land and irrigation, farmers made Chitwan a breadbasket of Nepal.  But like farmers participating in “green revolutions” throughout the world, they gained their high yields through chemical fertilizers, pesticides, mechanization, hybrid seeds, and borrowed money.  Over time, farmers fell into debt, grew only a narrow range of grain crops, and increasingly relied on income from wages and salaries.  Ironically, many grew grain to sell but had insufficient food for their own families.  And like the farmers, the soil lost its self-sufficiency and became more and more dependent on expensive fertilizers.  Young people left in droves to work in low wage jobs in cities or overseas.

The Katha and Kurakani of the Farm

Cauliflower on Ajamvari Farm, 1994

Cauliflower on Ajamvari Farm, 1994

Observing these problems and and wanting to help find practical solutions, Dr. Pramod Parajuli and Dr. Elizabeth Enslin gained the support of the MacArthur Foundation in 1993-94 to carry out a research and action project on agroecology in Chitwan.  Anil Bhattarai joined them as a research assistant.  As part of this effort, we decided to create a model for small farm sustainability that nourished the soil, families and local communities.

Goals:

  • Meet the basic needs of a peasant family for food, fiber, fodder, firewood, health, happiness, and renewable energy.
  • Nurture and regenerate ancient practices of dharma and hospitality.
  • Model our experiment on fairly small scale, so that peasant families with similar landholdings of 2-5 acres could learn from it.
  • Make our farm a place for teaching, sharing, and learning from others.

None of us had formal training in agriculture. We began by getting our hands dirty. We experimented with techniques we read about in books and magazines or those we learned from village elders.

Methods

  • Bio-intensive agriculture modeled by John Jeavons in Willits, California.
  • Permaculture and whole systems design.
  • The farming traditions of the Himalyan foothills still practiced by elders, such as Pramod and Udaya’s mother, Parvati Parajuli.
  • The farming traditions of Tharus, Kumhals and Botes indigenous to Chitwan.

Results

We spent the first year double-digging beds, making compost and planting trees.  Our garden flourished and inspired a new generation of farmers, gardeners and food and agricultural educators.

Pramod, Elizabeth and Anil went on to other projects, and Udaya and his family took over management of the farm.  The soil improved enough so that double-digging is no longer necessary.  The forest on the small farm provides  abundant fruit and vegetables as well as firewood and fodder.