Two women farmers from the cooperative adjust their red shawls and laugh at their sensible canvas shoes. They do not regret switching some of their fertile fields to animal fodder. “Supplying Kathmandu, we take our surplus milk to the collection centre once during winter and twice a day in summer. We can make an extra Rs50,000 per year and send our children to school and college,” says one. Three happy cows serenely peruse us from beside the ochre-daubed homestead and a blue kingfisher flashes overhead.
Further on, we see oats, vetch, sorghum and berseem being propagated for seeds. For the first time Nepali farmers do not have to rely on substandard imported supplies. A bilious bright mini-tiller demonstrates how land can be ploughed in a matter of hours instead of backbreaking days needed with oxen or bullocks. Dinesh tells me they have supplied several of these mechanical marvels, as well as reapers and seed threshers, that are rotated around the cooperatives. My Tamang ladies nod in agreement. They too get a turn.
Replicated throughout the country and shared with hundreds of thousands of farmers, this new technology, income from seeds and improved dairy yields have also helped earthquake recovery. As one of the worst hit wards in the April 2015 disaster, Aruchour is scattered with new earth bag houses funded by the National Reconstruction Authority.
Although there were few fatalities, every upland home was damaged and most of their animals lost, tethered and trapped beneath the collapsed buildings. During the miserable aftermath, villagers were crammed four households into one tent.
It is time to climb the clay clinging trail to the ridgetop house where 30 farmers are waiting, most of them women. Clutching bitter-smelling marigolds and plied with tea and orange katas, we discuss progress and they enquire after Dr Keith and Professor John, the New Zealand Lincoln University specialists who have worked with them for over 20 years. Looking around the circle of colourful garments and attentive faces, I realise how little I know about the exhaustive farming practices that shape the landscape of Nepal.
John wrote me that one of his best moments was sitting with a women’s cooperative leader outside her home looking up at hills covered in shrubs and trees. She said: “Before you came we used to spend hours each day up there trying to find fodder for our livestock. Now we can sit here and watch the forest grow.”
For some time my mobile has been ringing insistently, a wrong number I assume and silence its intrusion. Engrossed in the meeting’s milking chat and musings on transformed lives, it is not until we reach Lakuri Bhangjyang on the shortcut back to Kathmandu that I take the call.