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Food shortages grow in rural Nepal PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 11 July 2008

Where is the food

By Charles Haviland

BBC News, Achham district, western Nepal

Rising food prices and destroyed crop harvests are hitting Nepal very hard.
 
Although few people if any are starving, many are going hungry and the United Nations says several hundred thousand need urgent food assistance.
 
Most of the hungry are living in remote parts of the mountainous country, inaccessible by road.
 
In the village of Sokat in what is known as the Far West, I met a destitute family.
 
'Not enough to eat'
 
Jamauti Kami blows onto a fire in the dark kitchen of her mud-built house. She is cooking a meagre lunch for her six children: a bit of rice for the first time in three days, with a leaf vegetable.
Her husband is far away in India, looking for work. He left so there would be more food for the family and to bring money home.
 
The children were crying this morning, Jamauti said - still hungry from the night before.
 
"There's not enough to eat," she says starkly, her three-year-old daughter Tara nestled by her legs. That prompts Tara to ask when she can eat.
 
"Yesterday morning the children shared one roti and in the evening another roti, a leftover," Jamauti said.
 
"That was all they had. They ate and then slept. I didn't cook for myself because we've only a little flour left, so I'm hungry now."
 
Once the food is cooked, it doesn't last long. The ravenous children wolf it down.
 
When the incessant rain finally stops, Jamauti leads me through the crumbling, muddy paths to her tiny terrace of farmland.
 
In the ever-shifting cloud, she does a bit of weeding and shows me one reason the family are suffering.
 
Disease
 
"There was no rain so my winter wheat crop was ruined," she says.
"Later it grew a little but then it was destroyed by hail. I haven't harvested any wheat for two or three years.
 
She shows me the paddy she is now growing on the same patch.
 
Some of the blades are yellowish-green and pockmarked, something Jamauti says is caused by a pest spreading a disease.
"I'm afraid it will be ruined too."
 
In Sokat and much of western Nepal many low-caste people like Jamauti struggle to survive. Children have torn clothes. Some have distended bellies.
 
The rains beat down, especially at night, and the air cracks to the sound of thunder. Too much rain is as damaging as too little.
 
The countryside looks lush now - but that is deceptive. This is the hungriest time of year. A long dry spell has just ended and the newly planted crops won't be ready for months.
 
With centuries of toil, families have still managed to carve out the terraces in these densely populated hills. They have been subdivided many times.
 
'No control'
 
So even if the yield is good, home-grown crops will only feed a poor family for one or two months a year.
So they must buy food - but at a price.
 
The nearest roadside village and market is Chaukhutte, a collection of iron shacks more than four hours' walk from Sokat.
 
Sacks of rice from the plains are unloaded from trucks and into a store room. The people buying it, mostly women, face a long slog back to their villages carrying the heavy, 50kg bags.
 
It has rocketed in price.
 
"Last year it cost me 800 or 900 rupees ($13) says one woman, Jhakri Parki, who has come from Sokat with friends.
 
"Now it's 1,400 rupees ($20). But we have to buy it to save our own lives and our children's lives. We take it on credit. We'll pay after three or four months, when we have the money."
 
The price of rice has risen by at least 50% in a year; that of cooking oil by 30% in six months.
 
Shopkeepers like Dharma Singh Saud say they are sorry but they have no control over it.

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