The Terai Arc Landscape Project (TAL) - Women's groups
"At an individual level, we basically focus on women. In the Nepalese culture, women are shy, and they don't take part in meetings", explains Purna Kunwar, Field Officer for WWF Nepal. "We also target underprivileged classes, ethnic casts, indigenous people and the poorest people. In the Terai, most people are very poor."
In the participating communities, there has been an astonishing change in women. "Two years ago we had a literacy class in the Khata area, and many local women became literate", says Dhan Rai, Senior Program Manager, WWF Nepal.
"Now these women are engaged in many new activities, they have become more organized and feel more empowered. Had you, as a foreigner, come here just 3 years ago, these women would have not even dared to talk to you", Rai says.
Now they do. From village to village, a visitor gets a warm welcome greeted with smiling faces of men and women alike. The TAL project promotes forming local women's groups as a way of combining development and conservation at the grassroots level.
Coming together to make a big difference
At Mohanpur, near Bardia National Park, the Kalpana Women's Group consists of members of 58 households, all belonging to the indigenous Tharu people. "We have been involved in the TAL project for a year now", says chairman Agni Chaudhary.
"We have installed 13 biogas systems and 16 toilets with the assistance of TAL. TAL has also provided literacy classes, with 29 women attending, and given us a solar panel so that the students can read in the evenings. Next, we are planning to build a watchtower to control wildlife damage."
Life has changed quite a bit. "Cooperating in a group empowers women", says Mina Chanal, a member of Kalpana Women's Group. "If we have unity, we can easily pursue developmental activities. Another advantage of the group is that we have just started a trust fund, where every member deposits a fixed sum per month and those who need a loan can get one. As we are all low-income people, getting a loan is usually the only way to start an income-generating activity."
Controlling grazing is a challenging activity
Trust funds are one of the most common activities of women's groups in villages. In Kasarol village at Jhalari, in the buffer zone of Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, there has been a women's group in the Sunderi Buffer Zone User Committee for 7 years already.
"In our saving-credit scheme, each member gives Nepali rupees 20 (USD 0.28) a month to the trust fund. The fund is used for giving credit to those who need it for income-generating activities", explains Indra Joshi, vice chairman of the group. "Our group also makes sure that people are not grazing their livestock in the conservation area. It is difficult to control grazing completely, however, because people here have too little land of their own.""We are hoping we will be able to improve animal husbandry, so that people do not need to go to protected areas for grazing. Another very important thing is increasing conservation awareness amongst women in the area", Joshi reveals their future plans."The park and rhinos are ours to conserve"
The Koseli Women's Group in Mohanpur has about 60 members, and the group has been in place for 7 years. A lot has changed here, too. "The attitude towards conservation is different now", says Krishna Dhakal, a member of the group.
"Before, all women of this village went to Bardia National Park to collect firewood and graze their livestock. Now they don't go there anymore. There is a growing feeling that the national park, with rhinos and everything, is ours - and we should conserve it."As the park is close, animals frequently pay visits to the fields and end up ruining them. "We are planning to dig a drench around the fields to keepelephants out", Dhakal says.
Dhakal has also seen a change in her fellow women's self-confidence. "Before we had a women's group, it was difficult for individual women to express their opinions in public. Now we easily can put out our agenda and make decisions. Good decision-making has increased."
Internal credit schemes
The group also has a saving and credit schemes, with each member depositing Nepali rupees 30 (USD 0.42) to be provided for someone who needs a loan. "The main objective of these funds is to provide loans for the poorest of the poor", Dhakal says. The group also conducts conservation education training. Two biogas systems have been installed, and 22 toilets are under construction.With support of the TAL project, 16 goats were bought and distributed to the poorest members of the village, along with giving them a course in goat keeping, so that they could take up a new livelihood as goat farmers.