An electronic smartcard supplied by WFP is changing the lives of women farmers in rural Nepal. As well as helping them put food on the table during lean periods, the cards are also enabling women like Deurupa to get to grips with basic banking and numeracy.
by Frances Kennedy in Namule, Dailekh
DAILEKH – Deurupa Ranamagar, a farmer from the Dailekh district, knows only too well the sacrifices that come with feeding her family. She has not seen her husband for six years, since he migrated to Malaysia in order to find work. He sends back what money he can, while Deurupa tends their tiny wheat plot, collects firewood and raises goats, an ox and a pig.
In the past, Deurupa, 36, struggled to provide food all year round for her son, daughter, granddaughter and elderly grandmother. Food supplies usually ran out well ahead of the harvest that would replenish their stocks.
So three years ago, Deurupa joined the WFP ‘Food-for-Assets’ programme. The programme paid Deurupa with food, in exchange for her help in rebuilding local terraces and an irrigation canal – which in turn, will improve harvesting for the whole community. Later, WFP gave her cash instead of food, enabling her to choose what food she would buy. But getting money safely to remote regions such as Deurupa was a challenge.
So WFP teamed up with a local bank and, as a result, a few months ago started giving smartcards to women. The smartcard, which is a type of banking card, allows them to make choices about the food they buy and also makes the money instantly accessible. Deurupa explains:
"This card immediately saved me time and money," she says. "WFP put credit on the cards electronically. So we could get the money immediately by going to the banking agent (see photo below) in the village 15 minutes away. Before we had to take a six hour bus ride just to collect our earnings.”
Despite this, Deurupa recalls how she was hesitant at first, not ever having seen a plastic card like that before. But looking back, she says it has changed her life, adding: "The money I save is used for my children's education and clothing."
As a result, she has been able to send her son to a good high school – a difficult decision since it is a nine-hour drive away.
"I miss him terribly but I wanted him to have a better chance in life," she says. With her smart card she can transfer money directly to the host family and that reassures her.
Other women in the village receive funds from their relatives abroad directly onto the smart card. This means they avoid the often pricey transfer fees or the risks of sending money home with a courier.
And there are other advantages. Smart cards allow the women to better control their finances, as they can choose how much of their earnings to withdraw at a time, and safely store the rest — no small benefit in remote areas where banks simply do not have branches.
Through the three-year programme, the women have gained an understanding of basic banking and saving mechanisms, boosting numeracy skills "and our confidence!" says Deurupa.
The success of the smart card means that this programme is now being rolled out in other districts – including Ladagada and Pokhari –covering around 1,700 households.