The story of Tejaswee Shiwakoti

Tejaswee Shiwakoti (Nepal)
What I always keep in mind that I should try, not loose hope and stick to my goal, that I should try to reach it in every way that I can.
Tejaswee Shiwakoti (Nepal)

My father was assistant in an eye hospital and has now retired, my mother is a housewife. My sister has a BSc in engineering. She is currently living in the USA with her husband; she got a scholarship for a Master’s in the USA. We grew up in the countryside, but in a not-remote area. So in my direct family no one has a connection to farming; only a grandfather used to be farmer. My country has changed. In Nepal 80 percent of the people used to practice agriculture. When I grew up, this has sunk to 60 percent, and latest figure is about 50 percent. This interested me, this difference, and when I completed higher secondary education, I decided to study agriculture. My parent supported me, although Nepalese parents typically want their children to become a doctor or engineer and children typically obey their parents. But I was straightforward and told them I wanted something else.

My Bachelor’s study in agriculture (2011-2015) considered all different aspects of agriculture: from soil to livestock and horticulture. During my studies, I developed an interest in organic agriculture. People don’t know much about, and many Nepalese farmers are producing organically by default, as they don’t have the resources to use pesticides or fertilizers. But if they improve their cultivating practices and become organic farmers, they could raise their statuses. I know organic products are sold in department stores and Nepal already export organic coffee and spices. If we can do this, we can also do this with other products. We’ve visited the Biofach, the organic exhibition in Germany. It hit me there was only one stall with organic tea and coffee from Nepal.

After my Bachelor’s, after the earthquake, I started to work in a remote area, enhancing livelihoods of farmers. We e.g. distributed seeds and trained farmers in new cultivation practices. They were eager to learn them. In this area there were no other options than farming or working as government official. Most farmers were subsistence farmers. There were tracks for busses, but there were no busses, we had to walk everything; this was not what I was used to do. I also noticed that in many villages one women, children and elderly were left. The adult men were working abroad, working hard for little money. It would be better if they could work in their own country. I also had to interview the farmers at the end of the project, to evaluate it, which I liked because I could come closer to farmers.

For my senior high, I moved with my mother to our capital. We had a small garden where we grew peas, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin and the like. We had to buy rice, but vegetables we could grow in our own garden. It was difficult to convince my mother not to use artificial fertilizer and pesticides. She was finally convinced because of my persistence and news items about crops containing fertilizer and pesticides residues, affecting people’s health. So I know it will not be easy to stimulate organic farming. If it’s so difficult to convince your own parent, what about all those farmers? The main challenge will be to show that it’s possible for the farmers to produce more and earn more without chemicals.

As I developed this interest in organic farming, I started to look for a Master’s in this field. In Nepal this is not available. In Wageningen I found what I was looking for. When I read that I was offered a university fellowship that would cover my tuition fee and the Anne van den Ban Fund would cover my other expenses, I was so happy I could not sleep at night. My dream would come true! I also got nervous, because I had to arrange several documents, and I did not dare to believe I was really leaving until I got my visa. My parents were happy as well. My father said that he’d not expected me to get this far, as I was not like my sister, silent and obedient.

On the long term, I would like to have my own farm in Nepal. This will not be easy, but in the north it must be possible to buy some land. I would start small and my focus would be on marketing. For organic farming you need certificates, and these are currently very expensive. So I’m interested in entrepreneurship, but you need money for this.

So to start with, I try to find a job in the government sector. If you want to utilize your knowledge, you have more power when you work for the government than for a NGO, people will be more convinced when you are a government official. The government currently runs organic agricultural projects, so I hope I get this opportunity.

What I always keep in mind that I should try, not loose hope and stick to my goal, that I should try to reach it in every way that I can. If I had not received a scholarship to study in Wageningen last year, I would have tried again this year.