Our Fields are Dry and Barren
Our Fields are Dry and Barren

There are many hungry people in Nepal; most of them are low caste and ethnic minorities living in rural areas, with farming as main source of income. According to the Food Security and Hunger Survey in Nepal, 2004 56% of such caste and ethnic groups are in an extreme hunger situation. In the same group, conjectural hunger (those who are active and have the potential to escape from hunger if opportunities with assets are provided) is much more common than structural hunger (those who have high dependence on others for their livelihood and have few or no able-bodied adult household members). The figures are 93% versus 7%.

The Kumal ethnic minority in Dhading is one such group. The case of the Kumals in Pipaltar village is somewhat different. Here, 85 households owned sufficient flat fertile land, potential to supply them with a livelihood. Still they are hungry. Kumal village had an irrigation canal to their farm from a perennial stream flowing through their village, built with the support of the government in 1973. The water source has been diverted to adjacent village belonging to higher caste people, who built an intake just 50 metres above the Pipaltar intake. As a result, the Kumal were forced into hunger and are living a difficult life. Thirty years ago, the high cast people used to work for the Kumal to earn their livelihood, but now situation is reversed. Their rice yield has been reduced by almost 40%. Thakur Kumal used to harvest 120 muri (9,600 kg) of paddy (rice), but now he harvests 70 muri (5,600 kg) only.

 Kumal lost their water rights because they are oppressed The water users’ group leadership was from a high caste community, and access to water is thought of as a grant (or mercy), not a right.   The legal provision of Nepal allows building another canal if the first users have water in excess of their requirements. This provision has been violated in the Kumal case. (Civil Act Nepal 2020, Jagga Abad Garneko Mahal 91). Kumals are limited to growing rain-fed marginal crops during the monsoon, and leave the land barren during the dry season. Santa Kumal said, “When we plant paddy, we harvest less compared to the same land in the adjacent village, because of water stress during the flowering season.”

The district-level Right to Food Network, together with UMN’s local partner Jagat Jyoti Community Development Society (JJCDS) has been involved in restoring the situation. The Kumal now have been empowered to stand up for their rights. The Kumal now speak with one voice: “Our fields are dry and barren, and we look forward to our livelihood being restored.” The case has been taken by the government authority

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