Greenhouses bring hope to vulnerable mountain communities in Nepal

Growing up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal, I vividly remember how food insecurity impacted our everyday lives. Floods, droughts, and landslides would immediately determine what we ate. We ate high carb with little nutritional value when things got really bad. I dreaded those days. I looked forward to the rare days when we had lots of vegetables. As a result, many in my community grew up malnourished. But things started changing once my mother started growing vegetables using plastic covering in small spaces. A small change, which shifted the trajectory of my four siblings and my life.

That was my first exposure to improvised greenhouses. It has stayed with me all these years and now the need for it is only growing. Due to climate change, climate-induced disasters are a daily reality in Nepal and food insecurity is rampant. Nepal is climate disaster vulnerable and projected to import more food.

This past growing season my nonprofit organization, Mountain Resiliency Project, with funding from American Jewish World Services, has been working on building greenhouses with our community partner, Himalayan Community Committee, in Langtang valley, Nepal.

Kimjung glacier inches from Kyangjin Gumba, Langtang (3870m asl). The above glacier had also released an air-snow blast avalanche that blew off all standing homes nearby. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)
Kimjung glacier inches from Kyangjin Gumba, Langtang (3870m asl). The above glacier had also released an air-snow blast avalanche that blew off all standing homes nearby. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

In the past, I have led greenhouse projects in Tibet, Mustang and Baglung. These are high altitude communities that were directly being impacted by climate change. The greenhouses provided protection from extreme and erratic precipitation. And they support growing a diverse range of vegetables that would not survive outside in high altitude climate.

High peaks surround Langtang valley, villages inches away from glaciers, with the Tibetan Plateau bordering north and east. Langtangpas are people of Tibetan descent. The nearest road is three days of strenuous hike away. The April 2015 earthquake broke off a hanging glacier above Langtang village and caused an air-snow blast that hit and broke free rock and ice that came down 1000m and buried the village. Some scholars believe climate change has increased hanging glaciers and rock falls in the region.

Lakchung Tamang, 61, with his home in Mundu, Langtang (3500m asl) destroyed by the April 2016 Nepal earthquake. He lost 12 immediate family members, son, daughter, son-in law, daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren. (Source: Tsechu Dolma).
Lakchung Tamang, 61, with his home in Mundu, Langtang (3500m asl) destroyed by the April 2016 Nepal earthquake. He lost 12 immediate family members, son, daughter, son-in law, daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

The Langtang survivors of 160 households were relocated to a temporary shelter in Kathmandu. My colleague, Chhime Renzin Tamang, 21, a native Langtangpa, shared his grievance of losing 12 members in his immediate family. We brainstormed ideas of how to rebuild lives and I proposed building greenhouses. There had been a few greenhouses in the area before but the avalanches had wiped them away.

After all the pain and loss, it was difficult convincing families to think about farming. Many had just sowed their seeds before the catastrophic earthquake. They were in the fields preparing for a growing season when tragedy hit.

Tharchen Tamang, 62, and Lakchung Tamang, 61, with author in their home in Mundu, Langtang. (Source: Tsechu Dolma).
Tharchen Tamang, 62, and Lakchung Tamang, 61, with author in their home in Mundu, Langtang. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

 “After the earthquake, our small field was covered by heavy landslides and it had hardened, since we spent a year without cultivating the fields. We have to carry in our food from a town three days walk away; it is very expensive and strenuous. How can we survive like this?” questioned Tharchen Tamang, 62, of Mundu, Langtang.

When I asked Chhime’s mother about rebuilding, she responded: “Everything my family had worked towards has been wiped out. I lost my eldest son, his whole family, my eldest daughter, and her whole family, too. Twelve members. How can we restart our lives again at this old age?” – Tharchen Tamang, 62, of Mundu, Langtang.

Tharchen Tamang, 62, starting to sow her family greenhouse in Mundu, which sits at 3500m above sea level. (Source: Chhime Tamang).
Tharchen Tamang, 62, starting to sow her family greenhouse in Mundu, which sits at 3500m above sea level. (Source: Chhime Tamang)

We provided psychosocial counseling with strong Tibetan Buddhist influences to mentally prepare the families for rebuilding. Together with the villagers and local leadership, Tempa Lama, president of the local Langtang Reconstruction Management Committee, our greenhouse project was welcomed.

“It has been a year and the government still hasn’t delivered its promise on rebuilding. The greenhouses are being built before the houses. We have stomachs to fill! It’s a sign of hope and a new future for Langtang,” as said Tempa Lama, a local leader.

Langtang community members volunteering at the greenhouse construction. (Source: Chhime Tamang).
Langtang community members volunteering at the greenhouse construction. (Source: Chhime Tamang)

My hope and Chhime’s hope for greenhouses is to fortify our local food system, expand local ownership and enhance community resiliency. It is a small project, compared to larger development projects, but it is a viable opportunity that makes a huge impact in our community. The same impact it made on my upbringing.

“The greenhouse is now our main source of food.  The food grown from my greenhouse is directly feeding my family and my community members who are helping me rebuild my home. I am growing onion, watercress, mustard greens, cabbage, chili, garlic, squashes and celery.  We can rebuild our lives again,” as said Lakchung Tamang.

 

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