Who helps Nepal the most

How GEO is helping in Nepal

A famous example from the Himalayas shows how the association 'GEO protects the rainforest' helped develop an entire region according to ecological principles with little money - and brought social progress to its residents

Much has changed in Tamagaon, a small village near the village of Bhujung in the Himalayas. A few years ago, life was meager here and people had little opportunity to shape their future. In the fields below the largely protected monsoon rainforests, little grew except rice and lentils.

Today the farmers learn new cultivation methods in courses. A demonstration farm produces seeds. Women build their own businesses with small loans, and contraception is discussed in the newly established youth groups.

Compost instead of artificial fertilizer The 75-year-old Dan Bahadur Gurung also proudly shows his possessions: In military order, the most diverse vegetable plants grow on his terraced fields. He has built a sparkling clean shelter for his buffalo. The old man mixes its manure with that of the goats, composts it with organic waste and thus produces fertilizer for his beds. In the evening he turns on his little transistor device and listens to the BBC: "The radio is my teacher who tells me what is happening in the world."

Just one of almost 50 aid projects Reason for all this change: a 1997 from "GEO protects the rainforest e.V." Project initiated jointly with the German Foundation for World Population (DSW). In cooperation with the Nepalese environmental organization Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), which implements the program on site, the initiative has grown into a model project for forest protection and sustainable development. And not the only one: since 1990 the non-profit organization "GEO protects the rainforest e.V." With donations from GEO readers and the support of the publishing house Gruner + Jahr, in which GEO appears, almost 50 projects in tropical regions worldwide are supported.

Conservation also helps people In order to learn from the success of such relief operations, a team of experienced forest, agricultural and health experts evaluated the Bhujung project in the Annapurna region of Nepal in the fall of 2000. And it is precisely this result that could actually serve as a model for further projects: In general, interest in nature conservation has risen among the around 20,000 residents in the Bhujung region. Partly because those involved have learned that an intact forest can make a significant contribution to income.

130,000 new trees They collect and market medicinal plants that grow in the wild, such as "pipla", a type of pepper used to produce cough and cold remedies. Over a ton of the seed pods came together in the year 2000 in the village of Pasgam alone. In total, the Nepali have planted 130,000 trees in Bhujung, reforesting over 80 hectares of fallow land. The need for firewood has decreased by 36 percent since the start of the project because many households use more efficient stoves for cooking. The first of the carefully tended and fenced afforestation areas are already supplying wood and fodder for the cattle.

Green supplies from seven nurseries

With the exception of the ACAP demonstration plant in Bhujung, all of seven tree nurseries have been privatized. The organization provided the operators with training and initial funding. ACAP buys some of the trees in order to distribute them free of charge to village committees that reforest common land.

Actually unintentionally, the number of farm animals has fallen by almost 30 percent. At first glance, this is a worrying development, as goats in particular are important sources of protein in Bhujung.

Benefit has priority over prestige The evaluation team found the explanation for the decline: Because ACAP is trying to prevent the forest pasture, the farmers have started to increasingly place goats in crates near their houses. But there is hardly any space there. So the villagers keep fewer animals than before and slaughter them as early as one year. Before that, they lived to be up to three years old because large herds give them prestige. But in the additional lifetime goats no longer put on weight, but act as pure biomass destroyers.

The project has many effects For ACAP director Gehendra Gurung, this is a good example of the project's networked approach: "All individual components of the program should influence each other as positively as possible." The health program for mothers and toddlers and family planning offers are particularly important to Gurung. After all, population growth in poor countries like Nepal continues to pose the greatest threat to natural resources.

Contraception, school, education In fact, interest in the pill and condom has awakened since the project began: 91 percent of married couples are familiar with at least two methods of contraception. 38 percent use family planning funds that are distributed by the project's midwives. Younger people in particular are now well informed about sexuality. While only 40 percent of adults know how AIDS is transmitted, 92 percent of the adolescents are in the picture - a success of the awareness campaigns in youth groups and school classes that are linked to environmental education.

Integration of the "untouchables" Almost all children in the region now go to school. This is especially beneficial for the girls. Thanks to the newly established day nurseries in most of the project villages, they no longer need to look after their little siblings when their parents are working in the fields. ACAP attaches particular importance to the care of the members from the lowest caste who live on the outskirts of the villages and are traditionally excluded from social life as "untouchables". The after-school care center is free of charge for their children.

After the cash drop, 25,000 euros left!

The others pay the equivalent of around 50 euro cents and a kilo of rice a month for lunch. "The poorer people are, the more pressure they exert on their environment," says Gehendra Gurung, "if they have little land, the more they have to use the forest."

The Bhujung project, which has been running for more than three years, has met most of its goals, exceeded many, and - certainly a novelty in development aid - closed with a balance of over 25,000 euros in the till.

This amount - and additional funds from GEO and DSW - are now flowing into the follow-up project Bhujung II, which is building on the experience gained and promoting sustainable development in a larger area.