Almost a year ago, when Phumisara Thapa decided to start cucumber farming, everybody was sceptical. Some even tried to dissuade her, saying farming would cost a lot of money and she didn’t have the experience to run a commercial farm. But farming wasn’t new to Thapa; it was the only other thing she did, besides her household chores.
Thapa got married at the age of 16. As a housewife, her day began early at 4am, first cleaning and cooking, before working on the family’s small plot of land. Occasionally, she made homemade liquor, which she sold in the nearby market. But this meant that she had no time or savings of her own.
“I only had Rs5,000 ($42) and I needed Rs20,000 to start farming,” said 29-year-old Thapa. “So I decided to ask my husband to invest.”
But Thapa’s husband, who was working in Malaysia at that time, refused.
“He said that he would send me more money if what he was sending for household expenses wasn’t enough,” said Thapa. “But I remained firm on my decision, and my husband, very reluctantly, decided to invest money. As it was my first business, I was terribly nervous. I kept worrying what I would do if I lost that money.”
But by the end of the three-month cucumber season, Thapa had made a profit of Rs50,000. The money that she and her husband had invested had paid off, and Thapa was in charge of a vibrant new business. That was in April 2019. Today, she’s used the profits to invest in two other ventures – a tailoring shop and a pig farm. She makes around Rs 25,000 every month.
In the village of Jugepani in Hupsekot Rural Municipality, Nawalpur district, the majority of men work in Malaysia and the Gulf.
According to locals, every household has at least one member working abroad. Only the women, children and elderly are left behind.
Remittance money is the single largest contributor to Nepal’s GDP. In 2018, Nepalis working abroad sent home $8.1 billion, contributing 28 percent of the country’s GDP. Numerous studies and reports have pointed out the pitfalls of remittance, primarily the fact that it is creating an unhealthy dependence and that the money sent back is not being used productively. Most reports show that remittance is used for consumption, with some even suggesting that remittance is leading Nepalis to work less.
But in Jugepani, women like Thapa are not sitting around, waiting for their husbands to send home money. What is happening here contradicts established opinion. The women from Jugepani have been using the remittance money sent by their husbands to start businesses, helping create a thriving local economy. Some of the women have even become successful enough to convince husbands to return home.
When Thapa’s husband first left for Malaysia six years ago, his monthly salary was 1,000 Malaysian Ringgit, equivalent to Rs 28,000 at the then exchange rate.
“What we grew in our fields was barely enough to feed the family. For everything else, we depended on my husband’s income,” said Thapa. “But the money he sent was not enough.”
THE KATHMANDU POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK