Mankumari Oli is 24 years old. She lives in a remote village in Mehelkuna Village Development Committee in Surkhet District, Nepal with her husband, Nirmal Oli (24 years old), and her two children: a seven-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter. Her son attends school. Mankumari herself was educated to Secondary level. Nirmal Oli worked in Malaysia for some time as a non-agricultural wage labourer but has been home for the past year; however, he is due to leave again soon. Mankumari is a member of the Pavitra Seed Cooperative and works on her farm of five ropani (1 ropani = c. 500m2) growing peas, maize and lady’s fingers (okra). The farm is a 5–10-minute walk from her house, and during the agricultural season she works on it for approximately four hours a day. She also sometimes sells goats and chickens.
Mankumari has to look after her children and also do all of the household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water, cutting grass, and looking after the cattle. She finds cutting grass the most difficult task as she has to go a long way into the forest: ‘it takes one hour to just reach the place… takes almost 4–5 hours to cut the grasses.’ Having to take care of a small child also makes it difficult to finish all her tasks, and Mankumari is glad to have Nirmal’s help sometimes, such as with taking care of the children and cattle, fetching water, cutting grass, etc. She wishes he would not leave: ‘It is difficult when he is not around. I manage to give less time here and there.’ Earlier, her mother-in-law, who lives in a separate house, used to help with cooking and taking care of the animals. However, her mother-in-law is unwell and is not able to help as before, although she still takes care of the children when Mankumari is away or during cultivation time. Mankumari does not receive any additional help from members of the community with childcare or domestic work.
Mankumari has been a member of the Pavitra Seed Cooperative for the last three years: ‘I made up my mind to do it seeing all my friends do it, I saw some profit in this work so continued it.’ Ever since she started to work in seed production, things have improved financially for her family. She uses the money from the seed production for educating her children, buying monthly rations and for medical emergencies. Her husband also helps with farming when he is around, but it is mostly done by Mankumari. She learns a lot from the agricultural training that she attends as a member of the cooperative. Nirmal is encouraging when it comes to Mankumari attending training:
I don’t think it is a big issue; it is okay to miss out the chores when she goes for the meetings or is learning new things. It’s not a regular event; it is okay to miss out sometimes [on chores] Mankumari’s husband, Nirmal.
Her only problem is attending meetings far away from home:
I have to take the child whenever I go to Badhaakholi or Mehelkuna. I can leave the child here if I’m going somewhere near. If she is fed [breast milk] then I can leave her here [with the husband or grandmother] otherwise I have to carry her with me.
She also says there is no separate space to accommodate her children there, which means she has to take care of them even there.
Having small children hinders Mankumari’s ability to earn through seed production: ‘I cannot make more because my child is small. If she was grown up, I would have raised more buffaloes, I would get more fertilizer to use it in the farm to grow more vegetables and seeds.’ Like most of the women in her village, Mankumari is the one who’s mostly involved with all stages of seed production and this takes its toll on her, especially when digging and collecting the seeds. The burden of her work is linked to the seasonality of agriculture. She’s most overburdened during cultivation of vegetables and seeds: ‘I don’t get any time to rest during cultivation time… at other times I may have an hour to rest.’ Lack of proper irrigation facilities and access to clean water is also a concern for her and it takes much time to fetch water: ‘it takes four or five rounds to fetch water from the river side… I have to tie several drums to bring water to my farm.’
Both Mankumari and Nirmal wish there was some way of improving the sources of drinking water and irrigation system in their village; Mankumari says, ‘I wish there were taps in our homes for water and bio-gas [for cooking fuel].’ With regards to irrigation, Nirmal says, ‘there are no dams, we have channels for vegetable farming but it dries up in Chait and Baishakh [March – May]. Taps [at home] would make it convenient for us [for drinking water] instead of dams.’ Mankumari wishes there was a cheaper mode of transport to carry her seeds to the Cooperative: ‘It takes an hour to reach [the Cooperative] and we carry it… vehicles charge very high to carry seeds. Recently, a bus service has been started from here, so we either carry it or take the bus.’ Also, a seed-sorting machine would save Mankumari a lot of time, which would mean that she could concentrate more on her other unpaid tasks.