A painting on a wall in the heart of Pokhara’s lakeside reads, ‘No Lake! No more lakeside!!’ Pokhara with its serene Phewa Lake and fabulous view of the Machhapuchhre (Fish Tail) Mountain is one of the most visited tourist destinations of Nepal. But sadly, its future looks bleak. Over the years, encroachment, sedimentation, pollution, and invasive species have taken a toll on this beauty. In the past few decades alone, Phewa Lake has shrunken in area and depth by more than 50%!
"Babu, our lake was much bigger than what you see today. It's about half the size now and I wonder when the buildings will engulf the remaining lake, sighs Bhim Prasad Timsinha, 81, a resident of Pokhara.
The Phewa Lake is mostly fed by water from the rivers Harpan and Andheri originating from the Panchase Protected Forest Range. Deforestation and haphazard construction of linear infrastructure have however contributed to landslides, leading to high deposit of sediments in these rivers. As the water flows to Phewa; sediments consisting primarily of silt, sand, clay and gravel is carried into the lake thereby shrinking it while also degrading the water quality. To make matters worse, traditional cultivation practices of crops like rice, maize and millet on steep slopes in the upper reaches of the Phewa watershed accelerates soil erosion. Only adding fuel to the fire is its agricultural surroundings, which sees use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; consequently, disposed into the lake in the form of sewage or liquid waste, further degrading water quality.
With the Phewa lake facing a grim future, the Hariyo Ban Program intervened through an innovative idea that would not only stabilize the banks to avoid landslides, but also provide locals with diversified livelihood opportunities while also preserving the ecological integrity of the lake.
By planting coffee!
Located at about an hour’s uphill drive from Pokhara, is the tranquil Adhikari Danda where members of the Chharchare Surkekhola Bhirgaudi Gaudamuni Community Forest User Group (CFUG) have switched to coffee farming from traditional terrace farming. The roots of coffee plants have helped stabilize the banks by tying soil layers together in turn reducing sedimentation. Meanwhile, coffee being a high-value agricultural commodity, has proven to be more profitable in comparison to traditional crops, promoting economic growth of local communities. Furthermore, this intervention also contributes to biodiversity preservation around the Phewa Lake as the fruit bearing trees planted alongside coffee creates habitats for birds and bees while also reducing the dependence and usage of fuelwood brought upon by creation of various livelihood alternatives. As of today, 124 households of the CFUG have started farming coffee.
One among the many locals planting coffee is Kaladhar Bhugain, a teacher at a local primary school who was the first to switch to coffee farming. Kaladhar who was initially skeptic about the move now feels more settled and confident about the choice.
He adds, "Knowing that my work contributes to saving our Lake gives me immense satisfaction."
OUTDOING THE TROUBLES
While coffee plantation has tremendous potential, a number of challenges still prevail. Among them are poor irrigation facilities, shortage of agricultural labor, requirement of longer investment for profit returns and plant diseases to name a few. To overcome these challenges, four artificial irrigation ponds were constructed to irrigate an area of approximately 17 hectares throughout the year.
To sustain coffee production and ensure its economic viability over time, the Hariyo Ban Program has also supported the establishment of the Machhapuchhre Uttam Coffee Cooperative Limited, and provided entrepreneurial development trainings to aid the business’s sustainability and enhance market opportunities. These efforts have made possible the plantation of around 50,000 seedlings till date.
Puspa Raj Bhugai, recently returned from Korea after working there for five years. He is among the many thousands who leave the country to earn a better living for their families.
With a pensive look he says, ‘’In our village, at least one member of every family is abroad. But, I believe coffee has provided us with an opportunity to earn the same amount, in fact even more in our own homeland. I no longer have to leave my family and I am thankful to God for that,” adds Bhugai with a smile.
A MATTER OF PRIDE
The Phewa lake is a major source of livelihood for thousands of residents of Pokhara city. An economic valuation of Phewa Lake reveals that the lake provides goods and services worth more than USD 279,000 per annum. Tourism, fishing, irrigation, electricity generation, and water supply are some of the basic goods and services provided by the lake. Through its interventions the Hariyo Ban Program intends to maintain the ecological integrity of the lake by reducing soil erosion and sedimentation, lessen forest dependency and promote market-based livelihoods of the local communities. Taking a step further towards its goal, the Hariyo Ban Program is also supporting the certification of coffee as a certified organic product.
With simple measures like coffee farming in place, it’s not just about another cup of coffee, with this stimulant energizing not just those who drink it, but also the Phewa Lake and its surrounding areas.