There are numerous ethnic groups in Nepal -- with many shades of skin color and a wide range of physical characteristics due to the extensive migratory influences throughout its history. The country's dominant religion is Hindu --though there are a large number of Buddhists, especially Tibetan Buddhists, in the north and east. The caste system is quite evident -- the "personals" section in the newspaper is listed by caste.
The group I worked with, the Tharu, live in the forested areas of western Nepal. They are of the lowest caste -- a situation reinforced by the fact that they have a distinctive physical appearance. The Tharu have a very low literacy rate and live in the most extreme poverty. They are almost exclusively subsistence farmers with an average annual income per household of around $400. Child mortality rates are very high.
Cars are unheard of in their villages, except those that are driven by outsiders. They rely on bikes or ox driven carts exclusively. Even in the main city in the region there are virtually no private cars -- only trucks and SUV’s for moving tourists around (and there are very few tourists in that region) and UN vehicles. Though there is electricity in the city, the power goes out regularly and without warning. Gas is scarce, and gas lines go for blocks with people commonly waiting overnight.
The community was given the opportunity to grow alternative crops on government forestland and, with a USAID loan to build essential oil distillation units, they started operations in January of 2006. A worker for IDE organized the building of the two distillers as well as educating workers on how to operate the stills. They began by growing/distilling six crops --lemongrass, palmarosa, citronella, German chamomile, corn mint and eucalyptus (why the difference in how we list the botanicals?). All are cultivated except the eucalyptus, which is harvested from wild trees. In the first year they produced the following amounts of oil from these crops:
Corn mint 6kg
While only a few hundred pounds of oil was produced in the first year, all of it was sold, and it was considered a very successful year. They have since greatly expanded their plantings and should be producing approximately twice as much oil this coming year.
My assignment with regard to the distilling operation was to:
1. Find ways to increase the productivity of their distillation operation
2. Improve the knowledge and capabilities of the workers
3. Identify areas to increase profit