Gavin Stewart has been a supporter of Oxfam 's Enterprise Development Programme (EDP) for years. This March he travelled with us to Nepal to visit two of the EDP projects. Here is what he has to share from the experience.
I am in Nepal on my first Oxfam field visit. We are here to see two of the Enterprise Development Programme projects - both are agricultural cooperatives designed to boost farmers livelihoods, particularly through introducing higher margin seed crops to the farmers, and increase women's economic leadership. Three visitors - myself as an Oxfam supporter, Kyle from Oxfam GB and Akiko, who heads Oxfam Japan. All guided and looked after by all in Oxfam Nepal, but particularly Heema and Prakash.
Everyone is very committed and friendly. At the first farmers' cooperative - after the introductions and being presented with a garland of flowers - we hear about plans and progress to date. There is a clear commitment and plan but several challenges, including reaching out to more supplier farmers and introducing branded products - but the team generate a lot of confidence in their ability to deliver. At the farmers group we subsequently visit we meet one of the women farmers who has tripled her income - and then used part of the profit to buy more land to give
her more opportunity in the future. The soil is good quality and the group is also part of the way towards getting irrigation installed.
A major benefit from the coop is that a savings habit has been introduced creating some resilience against future fluctuations in income.
The crops are nearly ready for harvesting and look good in the fields - Prakash keeps feeding me wild growing green beans to add to the yoghurt (and obligatory sweet tea) we got from the farmers.
Back at Pavitra they take us through their systems and processes - and conclude by showing us their P&L (Profit and Loss accounts) up to the day before, with a healthy profit for the year to date. Quite rightly they are very pleased at this outcome!
The next day we visit the delivery partner - EDS. Also a cooperative with a wide range of activities (including running a school) and involved in several projects with Oxfam. The benefit of having a long term relationship with a partner is clear both here and when we see the partner for the next cooperative as well.
We then leave Surkhet and travel to the Far West region and DAFACOS - our second Nepal EDP project which has only been part of the programme for 4 or 5 months. Dadeldhura clings to the ridge of the hill like a string of beads and the drive there is spectacular. The room where we meet the cooperative board and local farmers is crowded and the presentation questions and discussions are very lively. When one of the local women is asked what difference has she seen in being able to earn more through her farming, she mentions the increased status in her family and the
ability to spend the money on stationery for her children at school - and some jewellery for herself. We ask how the group will ensure 50% participation for women at all levels - again one of the women tells us that the 3 board members they already have will make sure it happens and that everyone is brought into it and it is in their constitution. I am fully persuaded it will happen.
We get some tourist time now being taken to one of the few local forts remaining from the time of the king who united Nepal and to a temple on the hillside with superb views back to the town. I do not think they get many Scottish or Japanese visitors to either.
Over dinner we meet with the local head of the Chamber of Commerce who has several good points to make and the local agriculture officer. Again clear that the stakeholders are all brought into the project and this contributesto its success.
The next day is the return journey to Kathmandu and dinner in the evening with more of the Oxfam country staff. The next day involves meetings with the bank and also a tour round the Oxfam offices and a debrief to the staff.
Before visiting I had not appreciated the breadth of partnerships involved in supporting and delivering the projects - from the local Oxfam team to the delivery partners, to the mentor, the financing bank and the contacts with both the local Chambers of Commerce and the government officials both for agriculture and for cooperatives.
There will be many memories that I will have of this trip - the friendliness of everyone we met; the food (Thupka and Momos as well as the ever present vegetable curry) - and the sweet tea and coffee - but most of all the absolute commitment and the positivity of those involved at all levels of the projects. I am more convinced than ever now of the potential success and positive impact that will result.
All in a very worthwhile and enjoyable trip - and thanks to everyone who made it possible.