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It's not just about the money-a story from Rasuwa, Nepal

by Bikram Manandhar and Amina Maharjan

The face of agri-based livelihoods is changing in Nepal, as youth migrate abroad in search of livelihoods.
Lower-income Nepalese youth have improved their earning capacity by opting for foreign employment, working as migrant labourers. Working in countries such as India, Malaysia, and the Gulf, they send remittances in cash and in kind back to Nepal. The Economic Survey 2015/16 (MoF, 2016) has shown remittances income of the country amounting to over Rs. 617 billion accounting for 29 percent of GDP. This has brought about various socio-economic and cultural changes. Remittances provide the scarce cash income to households increasing their purchasing power. Current literature on migration has focused on aspects of this monetary remittance and only in a limited extent on the understanding of ‘social remittance’.

Current literature on migration has focused on aspects of this monetary remittance and only in a limited extent on the understanding of ‘social remittance’.

“Social remittances are ideas, practices, mind-sets, world views, values and attitudes, norms of behavior and social capital (knowledge, experience and expertise) that the diaspora mediate and transfer from host to home countries” (Mohamoud and Fréchaut 2006)."

Recently we made a field visit to Gatlang, Rasuwa (upstream of the Gandaki River-basin, a HI-AWARE study site), in Northern Nepal. Here, along with socio-economic drivers, environmental stressors as a result of climate change have led to low agricultural productivity, compelling people to adopt foreign labour migration as an alternative livelihood strategy. Climate change has resulted in rainfall variability, increase in temperature, decrease in snowfall duration and intensity, increase in wind speed and duration, increase in lighting strikes, and landslides. All these factors have widened the risks associated with agriculture and livestock-based livelihoods and spurred migration.  

Interactions in the community revealed that 60-70 persons from the village (mostly men) had migrated. They had taken up employment in Malaysia and Gulf countries, in various sectors such as hotels, construction, and farming. This increased migration trend is facilitated by easy access to finance for migration, if at a higher interest rate. The interest rate charged for migration loans is higher (about 50% per annum) than those for higher study or business (about 24-36% per annum). Moneylenders are attracted to lend money for migration, since they think the chances of repayment of such loans are higher than those for other purposes.

But, as many cases in the village will validate, foreign migration is a risky venture. Various issues such as not being paid as promised, not being paid enough to make any savings, illness, and closure of the company force young migrants to return. In the bargain, they incur heavy financial loses.

Despite these risks, young villagers undertake the journey to migrate, paying such a high interest for loans, with aspirations of a better future. The following case study highlights what people loose and gain in such migration, and how a bad situation can be turned into a success provided there is willingness.

M Tamang – a failed migration but a success story still

Migration journey

M Tamang migrated to Malaysia for the first time as a young boy of 18, spending NPR 80,000 for the journey overseas. He took up a job in the livestock sector. After working for a year he returned home, because he was dissatisfied with the job. He migrated again in 2003; this time to work in a furniture factory.  At that time, he worked for three years, and also got married. The migration was successful and he managed to pay back his loan and earn around NPR 600,000. Life seemed to be going well. But his personal life took a turn for the worse. His wife divorced him after four years of marriage, saying he was not earning enough to support the family. With this personal setback, he decided to migrate for a third time. This time it was a disaster, for he took ill and had to be rescued by his family, paying for a return ticket and a fine of NPR 130,000. It took him several months to recover before he could start working again.

On return

Since his return M Tamang has been involved in multiple enterprises. He was the first person to introduce cabbage cultivation in Gatlang (in 2002/03). There was no market for cabbage at that time, so he bartered cabbage with millet and buckwheat, which earned him important staples that were marketable. He also distributed cabbage for free to earn social respect as well as encourage future markets. In the last four years he also successfully improved his apple orchards with 100 plants. With the confidence of mobility and interacting with new people gained from his work abroad, he linked up with the District Agriculture Development Office for technical support for his apple farm. Further, he initiated plantation of chiraitos (Swertia, a Himalayan medicinal herb) on two private plots.

These farming activities have given his entire family economic opportunities.

Besides farming, M Tamang undertook non-farm enterprises. He works as a plumber and a carpenter, utilizing the skills he acquired from his second trip abroad.

The newly constructed house wehre M Tamange works as a carpenter

After the Gorkha earthquakes that hit Nepal on 25th April 2015, he has been busy doing carpentry and plumbing, engaging in the construction of new houses, repairing damaged ones, and maintaining the water supply and drainage systems of the village.

He also collects the hides of dead cattle and sells them in Kathmandu.

Dried skin(hide) of animals ready for sale

He sells 60-70 pieces of hide a year for NPR 1000-1100 apiece.  He has also been engaged in collecting waste bottles and plastic from the village and taking these to the market in Trisuli, earning anywhere up to NPR 25,000 thousand in one trip. He manages to do this twice a year.

By this type of work he has helped in contributing to a healthy environment for his village. M Tamang told us he is considered mad, because he is involved in such unconventional enterprises, but he is not bothered about it all.

Making success of a failed story – the use of social remittance

M Tamang’s case may clearly be considered a failure, if we focus only on financial remittances. But, when we look at the contribution of social remittances, we see a different picture.

M Tamang has taken up such diverse livelihood opportunities on his own initiative without any external support. This self-confidence may be considered the benefit of his migration experience. This experience has taught him some valuable soft skills (often the hardest to impart).

The social remittances of M Tamanag from his migration experience are, in summary:

  • Application of innovative ideas and practices (cabbage cultivation, collection and sale of plastic waste)
  • Acquisition of technical skills (carpentry, plumbing)
  • Increase in self-confidence (as shown in trying out uncommon enterprises such as selling the hide of dead cattle)
  • Ability to stand by his believes and to continue despite being ridiculed
  • Confidence in mobility
  • Negotiation and marketing skills (promotion of new product through free sampling by bartering cabbage with other products)
  • Approaching authorities (reaching out to government agencies),
  • Taking calculated risks (with Chiraito cultivation)

These are the benefits of migration that are often neglected but are of immense value to make migration work for development.  


References

MoF, 2016. Economic Survey 2014/15. Ministry of Finance, Government of Nepal.

Mohamoud, A. A. and Fréchaut, M., 2006. Social remittances of the African Diasporas in Europe, North–South Centre of the Council of Europe.

NRB, 2016. Current Macroeconomic and Financial Situation of Nepal (Based on Nine Months Data of 2015/16), Nepal Rastra Bank Research Department, Kathmandu.