Heifer International's President and CEO Pierre Ferrari visited Nepal in late August with Mahendra Lohani, Heifer's vice president of Asia and South Pacific programs. Reporters Bijay Ghimire and Pushparaj Acharya interviewed Ferrari for the Nepalese Karobar National Economic Daily during that visit. Below is an excerpt from the interview. To visit the online Nepalese news site for the article, click here.
Q: Heifer Nepal has been working in Nepal for the past 15 years. How would you rate the situation in Nepal?
A: Lots of significant work has been done in Nepal to alleviate poverty. The transformation that I have witnessed in the community is amazing. Poor farmers' livelihoods have improved. Agricultural and livestock-keeping techniques have improved. We have taught farmers about value chains. We encourage smallholder farmers to connect to markets and become entrepreneurs. The conditions here are favorable enough for people involved primarily in agriculture to not have to be poor. Changes are not only material, they are also social. Theres material growth and theres social growth.
Q: What is social growth?
A: We work with communities to increase their income, to improve their food security and nutrition and provide trainings to help them adopt environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural practices. We teach them about the value chain. After one group achieves its goals of improved income and better livelihoods, they teach other groups in the same way, hence fulfilling their social responsibility. The families also receive micro-finance support for bio-gas and toilets, anything they need to help them overcome poverty. Inputs and support that Heifer provides for one group is passed on to the next group. The first group undertakes the responsibility of making this second group equally capable. This ensures continuation of the work even after Heifer completes a project.
Q: Is it easy to work this way?
A: The target community, after they benefit from the inputs, form cooperatives. One group has to support the other to ensure income, food security and empowerment. We end a project only after incorporating all these groups into a cooperative. This way, a group of 25 will become a group of 400. Heifer has incorporated almost 71,000 families in this model. This allows them to continue seeking and receiving government and non-government support even after the project has ended. They are able to mobilize their resources better. This way the project never ends, it is continued by the participants themselves. Cooperatives are the best tool to work with resource-poor families.
Q: How many districts do you work in now?
A: We work in 38 districts. We have just started a new project focusing on goat farming and dairy. We have realized that if you just make the poor capable enough to earn two meals and day and have a roof over their heads, even the smallest fluctuation will take them back to absolute poverty. We cannot leave them so vulnerable. We have currently been working on creating market reach for farmers. Our main support is targeted toward bringing them above the poverty line.
Q: In many cases income increases, but poverty still remains. What can we do to improve living standards?
A: We are focusing on market access and enterprise. We want to assure that this process does not stop after the project. That is why the cooperatives are important. First we bring hope into people's lives through social and economic support. After this, they will be able to move ahead and access markets with financial incentives. Enterprise will assure regular income, and they will be able to increase their income as the market grows.
Q: Isnt it strange for an American NGO to be working through cooperatives and microfinance to improve livelihoods?
A: We have been doing this for the past 70 years. After the Second World War we distributed cattle to various parts of the world from America and Ireland. This started in 1944. We started in India in 1942 and in Nepal we provided Jersey cows in 1947. We have also provided chicken and chicks. The Tribhuvan highway was just being constructed and was not net open to the public at the time. USAID received special permission from the Royal Palace to use the road to transport the animals. They were delivered to Delhi in a ship and brought from there to Kathmandu in trucks. It was expensive, but we did this work of transporting improved animal breeds all over the world.
Q: You talked about womens empowerment. What about the men?
A: We also train men, but some move to Saudi Arabia and other countries for work. Women live in the village throughout their lives. But our projects are not just for the women. When women are successful, the benefits and income flow throughout the family. Empowering women does not necessarily mean the mans influence is reduced. Empowering women means empowering the family. This models success is proven.
Q: How did you continue to work even during the [Nepalese rebel] conflict when most international agencies, especially American agencies, were not allowed to work?
A: Our greatest strength is the families we work with. They represented us and supported us if there were problems in implementation during the conflict. They told the rebels, you are rebelling for better livelihoods for us, so is Heifer, so why do you want to stop the good work? International nongovernmental agencies are often accused of not being transparent. But we were transparent throughout. What amount is allocated to livestock, what amount is allocated to trainings, what amount is allocated to social mobilization, everything is open and clear.
Q: Why do you think Nepal is poor?
A: There are limited resources and tools in the country. But I dont think Nepal is poor. It has a lot of potential to develop in the hydro-power and agricultural sectors.
Q: What kind of programs will be implemented in Nepal in the future?
A: Our current project aims to involve smallholders in the goat value chain. It also has a small dairy component. Along with this, we will also focus on strengthening the cooperatives.