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Is Nepal really an agricultural country?

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Earlier this week, a news story popped up in our national dailies that said that at a village in Bajura, local farmers had to feed their apples to cattle owing to lack of proper transportation and market for their otherwise lucrative product. This news, on the face of Kathmandu-based rhetoric of agricultural modernization and the so called Prime Minister Agricultural Modernization Program initiated by the earlier government, shows the real situation of our agricultural status. It shows how apathetic our leadership and policy-makers are when it comes to being accountable for our agricultural development.
While the whole world is pacing towards new innovations for sustainable living, there has been a constant downfall of Nepali Agro based industries in last few decades, whereas the demand of food has increased by almost double-fold. At the time when our neighboring nations are profiteering from higher agricultural achievements in laboratories and in fields, we are not even being able to produce enough food for ourselves, let alone exporting. Given the national workforce (more than 65%) that toils in agricultural sector, production is in a pitiful, derogative condition. Governmental investment for agriculture every year almost reserves around 30% of the total budget, but when it comes to substantial results, we are doomed.
In 2011 only, statistics show that India had 14% GDP contribution from industries and Bangladesh had 17% while for Nepal it was just 7%. This figure, instead of growing towards double digit, has been shrinking more and more with each year we pass. This is a result of a prolonged transitive mindset that our political leadership wants to perpetuate for the interest of their benefits while it mars the national development. This is what happens when a nation fails to produce, when we don’t have industries that link up to the farms and communities.
We teach our school-children that Nepal is a nation based on agriculture, but they’re innocent of the reality of our agricultural scenario. In Nepal, we have a notion of taking things for granted, we believe what we’re told to believe. We’ve been taught to believe that we are an agricultural nation, and we swallowed that with ease. But let’s see the flip side. Here are a few agriculture related industries that the national governance system has failed to maintain and promote, and hence been closed/degraded:
                     Jute mills: Few decades earlier, Jute Development Board had been established that had aimed to do research on seeds, research and technology transfer and product refinement, but the subsequent governments failed to maintain that resolve, and we all now know that there is no scope now for Jute farmers, and the industries that once known all over south Asia have now ended up as ruins.
                     Textiles and cotton industry was also initially established with Chinese support; and it had boosted the cotton production across Nepal. But the so called leaders, instead of lobbying for modernization and technology development, of ne Cotton Development Board, and now there are hardly any cotton industries in Nepal.
                     Agricultural Tools Industry was opened in Birgunj with the help of the then USSR. But owing to lack of commitment from our leadership, it was closed within a short span of few decades.
                     Janakpur Cigaratte Factory was once the pride of Nepal. It was a source of employment for thousands of Nepali. But sadly, Tobacco Development Board that once dreamed of connecting farmers with industry is now dysfunct, thanks to our so called leaders of new Nepal!
                     Birgunj Sugar Mill too has suffered a similar fate. At present, we hear news of farmers protesting about the low payback for their sugarcanes, as they are compelled to sell their raw materials to the Sugar mills across the border.
All of these instances are few epitomes of the downfall of our agricultural and industrial efficiency. Many other sectors, like Trolley Bus in the Kathmandu Valley and the Hetauda-Kathmandu ropeway, have also undergone relatable extinction. If we are to march towards prosperity as a nation, such myopic interventions from the governmental agencies should be avoided at any cost.
The real problems revolve around the tragic fact that policies have never benefitted the beneficiaries. Because of the outright corruption and political division, the allocated money never reaches the actual communities in need. There are a lot of I/NGO’s that are supposedly working on issues of farmer empowerment, crop protection and development, but none seem to have an effective impact in our agricultural systems.   As a result, in spite of ample production, we are not being able to sell our products to the market. Isn’t it strange that we import almost everything we eat – from rice to wheat to grams to packed foods – while our fresh apples rot to the earth owing to the lack of proper marketing and transportation?
This paradox revolves around the popular, sometimes highly revered conception of pseudo-modern Nepali society that finds land owning quite attractive whereas farming is often loathed. Such a deep-rooted false perception can’t be eliminated overnight, but it is possible if new scientific and profitable approaches are adopted for agriculture and farming. There is an ample space for agricultural entrepreneurship, especially in cities like Kathmandu where civilians are willing to pay rather a higher price if they’re guaranteed with healthy organic foods. For this to happen, newer technologies need to be adopted for producing our food. From vegetables to cereals, fruits and staple diets, it is possible to multiply the yield if we apply latest scientific findings to our fields. Also, we still lack a proper marketing and advertisement of our products. The apples that are being wasted could be very potent raw material for a wine company, but we are failing to develop a strong link between farmers and industries. Transportation is a basic factor when it comes to production and market reach. Sadly, as of now, if we don’t plan and act strategically, our apples seem to be bound to suffer similar fate in years to come. For this, a complete sense of responsibility needs to be planted into the hearts of bureaucrats and policy-makers such that they realize the real woes of our citizens, especially in the remote villages and hills.
Recently, we’ve heard a lot that Nepal has become independent on poultry farming. While some bureaucrats and leaders brag over this so called achievement, the normal public is always unaware to the fact that a large portion of poultry-feed is still imported from India. Saying that we’re independent in such a pretext is nothing more than a shallow, facile attempt of deceiving the economically marginalized communities of this nation. Rather than selling false pride, government needs to focus on developing programs that empower local farmers for scientific and sustainable methods of farming. Rather than clinging to the subsistence-oriented and traditional farming, training should be provided to the farmers for introducing new and effective methods of production and farming.
Political leadership is completely aware, yet unwilling to address the real concerns. It doesn’t have time to envision the future and come up with strategic planning to tackle the food insecurity, agricultural decline and its impacts on public health. This being said, we should not undermine that few agro ventures have been successfully running in this last few years. Even without any visible support from the governmental agencies, youths in different parts of Nepal have started setting up farms, dairy industries, organic fertilizers production and other similar small to medium scale businesses. From ostrich to organic vegetable farms, people have slowly started seeing agriculture as a respectable and profitable occupation. It’s a silver lining that may be we’re now ready for a paradigm shift, a drift from the social conditioning that trains us to see working at farms as some low profile job.
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#sharingknowledge

Of hashtags!

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If you were a librarian and you had to sort out hundreds and thousands of books, what would you do?

The best way to make it easier to retrieve books from such a vast unorganized collection would be labeling those books into sections like horror or drama or sci-fi or any other genre. This categorizes similar kinds of books together, and whenever we need a particular book in future we can simply search for the group, avoiding the extra time and energy we spend on searching through the whole lot. Hashtags are only different from this in that they are on-screen categories that are generated by the users in internet. When we put a ‘#’ symbol ahead of a word or a letter each time we post something in the cloud, it means that we expect the exact same word to be posted somewhere else, and these posts with a common hashtags have something in common. That something could be anything from #weekendparty to #euro16 to #backoffindia.

In a way, hashtag is a language. If we know how to use them wisely, it is a very useful tool to track things from your interest circle, and also link and explain your personal work/views to the world in internet. But, often, many users don’t get it and the usage of hashtag turns into funny, or rather annoying cluster of some meaningless blue words on our screens. Almost daily, we see posts with hashtags like ‘#babakoprincessmoh’ or ‘#kati_jado_bhako’ plaguing our newsfeeds. These digital polluters (no offence intended) seem to be using hash symbol in front of words just because it makes these words turn blue and they find it cool enough to repeatedly decorate their posts with them.

The hashtag idea first came from Chris Messina (an open source advocate, and an American Developer Experience Lead at Uber), whose sole purpose was to group messages on social media using ‘#’. He pushed this idea forward to make the users easier to search for updates on specific relevant content. It all started with tweets. The goal was to group together tweets that followed specific content, so that the user can get all the tweets on that content. It soon became the buzz and now it’s used everywhere from social media to blogs to status updates. (It’s still strange that Linkedin doesn’t recognize hashtags).

Basically hashtags are used in broadcast media, sports, sentiment analysis and every other thing we can name that shows up online. We can see hashtags being used in protests and campaigns, in event promotions to even mass propagandas.
Just as when we use languages to communicate, when we start using hashtag, there are certain things one must remember. First of all, using hashtag is not a fashion trend that some hipsters can’t live without. They were not created for the ornamentation of our silly digital rubbish. Hashtags are meant to make it easier for internet users to search generic topics and trends.   Every hashtag has its purpose, and if you think it’s not true, you need a decent e-education!

Make sure that the next time you use hashtag, you keep in mind not to create a digital trash that undervalues the primary purpose of the tool itself. There’s always a bit wiser way to do about everything, and hashtagging is no exception.

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Learning to unlearn: How our education system has failed us (and how do we bounce back)

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Being a seemingly unemployed graduate, this Dashain showered me with a range of strange blessings from my family and relatives. ‘May you be granted Visa’, ‘May you earn a lot in the days to come’, ‘May you get a name and fame’ were the ones that topped the list. My cousins, some of who are still school-goers, received blessings of being doctors and engineers and standing first in their classes. No one cared about what we’d love to do with our lives. We were offered lengthy hymns of blessings, but what we wanted to become later in life was never cared for.

This is my personal experience, but I bet thousands of others can relate to this.

This led me into a brief contemplation and I couldn’t resist myself searching for a connection between our social and cultural upbringing and our education system. A question evolved in my head, ‘isn’t this why our (education) system has failed us?’

Inside the pages of our bulky books that we carried reluctantly to schools, there’s a fine-tuned version of our best selves in making, fabricated in utopian silk. It’s something to ponder upon. During the six long hours in schools, our kids are taught, sometimes with batons and ‘sit-ups’, to be disciplined, to behave in a civilized way. These kids yawn their jaws out for the rest of the day, and on their way back home they buy noodles, savor the MSG adulterated snack and throw the plastic wrappers away on the roadside. They rush home; they’ve got an assignment to do: the teacher had told them to write an essay on ‘Earth and Environment.’

Chapters in the schoolbooks tell our kids not to litter, but these lessons are lost in translation.  The way we tend to make people understand things involves a lot of mugging and dictating and memorizing at the expense of understanding and applying. Instead of being a productive and inspirational guardian angel for our students to sharpen their creative processes, our curricula rather narrow the choices of our pursuits. It was meant to plant seeds of progression, humanity and beautiful changes, but on its way it guided us to be even hungrier for power and money.

Far from their genuine purpose of delivering wisdom, classrooms are dull and boring bubbles where indifferent teachers come for money and uninterested students listen to them out of fear. Schools, instead of helping students to unleash their productive capacity, tend to normalize each and every child to a standardized line of measurement. Amidst chalks and talks, a child who recruited in pre-school swiftly turns into a high school graduate, but he himself doesn’t realize what he’s going to do with his life. This is how strangely our education has failed us, repeatedly. It’s not hard to comprehend the development of this social paradigm if we care enough to think a bit about the political inclination, degree of unionization and politicization of our school systems, teachers and institution operators.

Children are trained, not taught. They are trained to memorize formulae and count words and score high on tests. Their curiosity is clawed by the fear of under-performance, their uniqueness is paralyzed by the compulsion of conformity that our system dictates. Their differences in opinion are barely celebrated, their creative endeavors seldom admired. A kid is expected to believe that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, but how? He’s barely shown. Showing them takes pragmatism, and our schooling system is tragically poor in it.

We have been so inured to a corrupt system that we have constructed a social concept of ‘you’re doing great as long as you’re making money’. Ethics and morality, dignity and righteousness have been left behind far away in our journey to this point in the history. We tell our children to study hard so that they can earn money later in life, but we never tell them that wealth is not the answer to everything. Every time, generations by generations, a large mass of tender youths are brainwashed by our education system to fit into places, to compete, to outrun their fellow mates.. We have sadly been convinced that money can buy respect. We then fight with each other, we pull strings to get better off than the ones around us. Mutualism and co-operative spirit die a brutal death. In this competition of achieving more and earning a good fortune, the real joy of living is often compromised. The end result: a person, who as a kid, sang songs brilliantly ends up working as a salesperson, a kid who dreamt of pursuing career in robotics gives up his passion and settles for a 9-5 job that he has been persuaded to believe is lucrative. The pursuit of creativity fades away in an irreversible way and the whole nation bleeds in agony. We talk of brain drain, but we never seek out solutions.

In this ever changing world where technological triumphs have been advancing each day, we’re still stuck in a conundrum of setting up a reliable system. Though we’re lagging, it is never too late to make amends. The conservative methodology of our education system needs to be overhauled with new measures. We need motivated teachers who understand child psychology; mentors who love value-based teaching that can incite imagination and curiosity inside classrooms. We need newer techniques of making kids understand the primary phenomena of the world, earth and human relationships. More than notes and chalks and dusters, our kids need to be habituated for learning with multimedia and similar interactive approaches. We may give lengthy residential trainings to teachers, we may change the grading system for a hundred times, but our kids won’t grow up to be wise citizens unless we celebrate their creativity and encourage rather than suppress their differences in opinion.

We, the ‘grown-ups’, the parents, the teachers, administrators and policy makers are yet to unlearn the beliefs that are engraved deep into our psyche. Before we can make our children learn, there’s a lot in reserve for us to unlearn. We were fed stereotypes, and we were subjected to confirmation. First, we need to wretch that out. We need to mold ourselves into more pragmatic, more reasonable and logical beings before we set up any standards for our kids to live by. We must question everything. Our kids will learn by our examples, not by our dictation. Only when we show them by throwing garbage on the dust-bins can we make them rational enough not to litter. There is no other way.

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The Birth of ‘Ganthan’

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So, let’s talk!

When Lakshya dai (the creator of this magazine) shared to me his new idea about doing a talk show, I outright loved the concept. I came to know that like me, he was also too bored with the clichéd way of lately trending motivational seminars and interviews that had in many ways failed to serve their purpose. We needed something different from that, and we decided at least to try.

A lively, inspiring and logical conversation between wide range of persona like researchers, bankers, entrepreneurs, professors, students and public speakers was what we felt like we really wanted to create. It needed to be something intellectual, fun yet authentic; where we could learn from their experiences and stories.  We brainstormed together for a few days, and came up with a tentative plan of carrying out a real-time, semi-formal, spontaneous talk mediated by Kmag associates, along with few other intellectuals and experts on diverse issues. Hence, ‘Ganthan’ was conceived!

From human rights to agriculture to pop culture to economics to popular comics, Ganthan can be about anything. In Ganthan, as much as we say, we listen. We listen to experts and professionals from the related topics, we listen to logical, philosophical, creative and scientific things that would help us to expand the horizons of our imaginations; and ultimately solve real life problems. Being a part of this show means that you truly have something to give, ideas to share, and in return a lot to receive and learn.

Since we are still incubating, we decided to make the best of the network we already had under The Messenger’s Club (for those of you who are unaware TMC is a group of most active Kmag followers and friends). We chose the issue of contemporary trends of Internet usage, especially in Nepal as the topic of discussion, and gathered ourselves last Saturday afternoon at our start-up office.

Under the bright sky of Kathmandu, we started the talk by contemplating on how has been internet used in Nepal. Since there can be no hard and fast rules for the use of internet, people, especially youths are subject to a lot of catchy and distracting contents in the virtual space. The rapid boost of Information systems has made it easier for all of us to find information that we seek, and it has a downside of its own. Mr Kashyap Shakya, a Lecturer and marketing manager reckoned that we all are susceptible to both positive and negative influences over the internet. Mr Shaurab Lohani, a communication skills mentor, agreed that when it comes about how we use internet, it’s entirely upto a person’s choice, the way s/he has been raised, his/her knowledge, level of understanding and curiosity. Age factor plays its own role in this, added Rastra Bimochan Timilsina, a Lawyer and an avid Youtuber. Younger people are more willing to exploit the internet for their interests. Messengers, viber, whatsapp, reddit,snapchat, there are too many to name. We have thousands of ways to communicate. When we were kids, watching porn required a great deal of homework- like collecting DVDs and making sure no one’s home- but nowadays everything is on our fingertips. At the hormonal insurgency of teen-age, it’s so difficult to sort out what things on the internet might be productive and what not. He believed that people will be more wise and selective on what they choose to see, read or watch in the internet with maturity. There are things that we learn only from experience.

Surplus stuffs can be found on internet which if we learn to choose wisely can in fact be a tool for sharpening ourselves and solving real life problems. Being a marketing manager, Kashyap dai shared how advertising and marketing via the social networks like Facebook and Instagram has helped him to grow his business. Not only for news and international updates, he uses Facebook to connect and interact with his customers, even take orders and feedbacks of his products. He connects his own experiences and shares them to his students in classroom, motivating and inspiring them to be wise enough to select things of proper value and personal preferences in the social media.

Shaurab dai and Rastra both have found internet, especially Youtube as an outlet for their professional as well as creative works. Shaurab dai, being a mentor of communication skills, shares video lectures which has helped thousands of people seeking improvement in their verbal expression capacity. Rastra, the Random Nepali, wouldn’t be the Rastra we know today without Youtube; and he admits that. He creates really creative and interesting stuffs and shares them on his Youtube channel, which has been widely popular among youths in a short period of time. He finds a lot of ideas over the internet, and social media has been the first thing he thinks of when he needs new concepts for his videos. Internet is the secret to his ability of balancing a day-job of a lawyer and a teacher, and night life of a popular Youtuber.

The audience in Ganthan listened to all of this first hand while they at times raised questions and participated in the talk. The talk lasted almost about an hour and a half, and at the end of it we all felt that indeed we had learnt a lot. We received some suggestions about the topic selection and the panel advised that we write up a summary after each talk. As this was a prototype of what could be a stage show someday, we need to be more specific about the issues we’re to talk about, that we learned before the wrap up.

This is just a beginning of something beautiful. There’s a lot to talk about, discuss, think, research and share. All of the episodes of Ganthan will be summarized in our website, and hopefully in near future, we will also be able to share videos of this program. To be true, roads ahead are unknown, but we already have a positive vibe that says the journey will be wonderful. The first week’s Ganthan meet-up really has boosted our spirits and instilled a real motivation in us. We’re thankful to each and every one who showed up for the show. We look forward to hundreds and thousands of such constructive gatherings. Much love.
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