UN World Food Programme

Building Livelihoods By Soothing Toothache

WFP is helping poor communities in northern Nepal to cultivate precious medicinal plants which, as well as soothing fevers and toothaches, can become a source of income. Laura Melo explains.

In Gatlang village in Northern Nepal, medicinal plants are a precious commodity. They help alleviate common ailments like upset stomachs, fevers and toothaches. For many mountain villages in Nepal, medical assistance can be many hours of trekking away, and these plants – found in the wild – provide immediate relief.

WFP is helping the Gatlang community to cultivate the highly sought-after medicinal and aromatic plants which can then sold in the markets in the capital. It’s an example of how WFP used food assistance to help improve livelihoods. Food is provided in return for the creation of valuable assets – assets that in the long term will help guarantee enough food for the entire village.

The Gatlang model is being replicated in another 37 villages in the northwestern Karnali region, one of the least developed and most food insecure areas in the country. It is just one of the projects being run by WFP in a country where food needs are immense.

After 11 years of civil war, which ended with the April 2008 general elections, many of Nepal’s 27 million inhabitants struggle to survive. Over 30 percent of the population in Nepal live under the poverty line, and more than 40 percent are undernourished. The problem is particularly acute among children. Every other child under the age of five is chronically malnourished.

In the village of Lokhim in Solukhumbu district – home of  Mount Everest - WFP is providing fortified take-home rations to pregnant and lactating women, and their young children. Over the next two years, nearly 3,000 women and young children will receive fortified food, healthcare services and nutritious training in Solukhumbu. This is part of WFP’s Mother and Child Health Care project in Nepal, one of whose goals is to reduce the high prevalence of underweight and malnourished children.

Due to its topography and geographic location, Nepal is highly prone to natural disasters. Heavy rains last August caused the river Koshi, in the southeast, to break through its embankment. Over 70,000 people were displaced. Most of them are now living in precarious conditions in temporary camps and dependent on WFP food assistance. Others are struggling to rebuild their lives and their homes.

These are not the only people living in camps in Nepal. WFP is currently assisting 108,000 Bhutanese refugees who have been in camps in Nepal for over a decade. Many are being offered the chance to be resettled in a third country, mostly in the United States. Many of the refugees are looking forward to leaving Nepal to find better opportunities for their children.

For many Nepali, though, achieving a future with enough to eat and opportunities for their children seems almost as challenging as scaling the highest mountain on earth.