Sustainable farming researchers aid Nepal earthquake victims

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A team of researchers affiliated with CSU’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab rallied colleagues, friends and family from around the world to raise funds and deliver essential supplies to villages devastated by the April 25 earthquake in Nepal.

After the powerful earthquake shook the very foundation of their work – the land under their project farms – Tarendra Lakhankar, Ph.D., Jeeban Panthi and their colleagues launched into action.

A child staying in a temporary camp in Gorkha, Nepal, receives a box of milk. Photo by Jeeban Panthi, provided by CSU. (Click to enlarge.)

Based at the NOAA-CREST Center at the City College of New York, Lakhankar designed a website to communicate the facts of the effort and raised about $10,000.

Because the area was so devastated by the quake, Lakhankar and his team bought supplies in India – 1,000 blankets, 1,500 kilograms of rice, 1,500 batteries and more – rented a truck and met a team of volunteers from Nepal at the India-Nepal Sunauli border crossing. Those volunteers, including medical professionals, then drove six hours to the hard-hit region where lab members have been working with locals for the past three years to improve farming efficiency.

Panthi is a lab scholar and research coordinator for Small Earth Nepal, a nongovernmental agency that has received funding from the CSU lab. He coordinated gathering supplies and delivery to the high-mountain villages in the Dhading and Ghorka districts near the epicenter of the quake. Panthi’s wife, Kabita Gautam, started an online fundraising campaign.

On May 1, they were the first relief workers to arrive in the mountain villages, delivering blankets, tents, milk, daal and water to stranded farm families.

“They were really, really happy,” said Lakhankar, who spoke to Panthi by phone after the deliveries. “It’s been really bad – 90 percent of the houses are damaged.”

Although “relief worker” is not in the job description, assisting farmers comes naturally to researchers supported by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Adapting Livestock Systems to Climate Change. The lab is based at CSU and is directed by Dr. Richard Bowen in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; it funds integrated research that helps small-scale livestock holders adapt to environmental and health impacts of climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In 2010, the lab received a five-year, $15 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

CSU’s Feed the Future Livestock Innovation Lab works with farmers in the Gandaki River Basin in Nepal. Photo by Tara Nath Gaire, CSU. (Click to enlarge.)

Lab member Ajay Jha, assistant professor of global horticulture and plant-soil-water management at CSU, had been in Dhading earlier in the week and was just leaving Nepal when the earthquake hit.

“Most of these people are on the slope of the mountains and those places were very badly damaged,” Jha said from his office in Fort Collins. “The fields were not damaged but houses need repair. Multiple generations live together and now people are sleeping in open tents.”

Jha takes comfort knowing the lab’s demonstration farms have been up and running for about two years, giving the farmers a foundation as the area begins to rebuild. The multi-disciplinary team has helped local farmers create a fodder and feed market, a water users group and a milk cooperative.

“They are making three to four times their income in one year now,” Jha said. “Even the small things we do make an impact, and we can replicate that in other places and small farms around the world. Whatever we have learned at CSU, we are trying to put into practice there, customized to local needs. We are there to help people and make sure our research is making a difference in people’s lives.”

Dr. Ajay Jha of CSU demonstrates a drip irrigation system at the Syangja Livestock Innovation Lab in Nepal, January 2015. Photo by Katie Steneroden, CSU. (Click to enlarge.)

Read more about CSU’s support for Nepal.

To donate to Nepal relief:

In response to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, USAID has deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to the region and is providing more than $23 million in emergency assistance. USAID does not accept donations for its crisis response efforts, but lists non-governmental organizations that have issued appeals for donations, which you can find here.

In addition to the Indiegogo campaign, the following organizations are reputable groups that work in Nepal full time and are currently providing food, medical aid, or shelter to those in need:

UNICEF is working to help provide critical aid to children and families, many of whom have lost their homes in the earthquake.

The American Red Cross has a chapter in Nepal and is providing shelter and medical aid, as well as a search and rescue effort to victims in Nepal.

Direct Relief is providing medical supplies and staff to local hospitals in Nepal, which are under-supplied on basic products.