During her time at HWS, Prabighya Basnet ’09 began a small vegetable garden on campus, in part to address two questions: “Where food comes from? and “How is food produced?”
“This really inspired me to increase my understanding of the processes involved in growing food and the food/farming market,” says Basnet, who came to study in Geneva from Kathmandu, Nepal. “Our current system of high intensity/high input agriculture has meant that our food has become adulterated with chemicals which in turn are poisoning our water systems and soils. Local seeds are also widely being replaced by GMO’s with huge environmental impacts at all scales.”
In 2010, Basnet and her sisters founded Kheti Bazaar, a marketplace for organic products in Kathmandu, in the hopes of transforming “this current farming system in Nepal” in order to give “high value market for organic producers,” Basnet says.
Today, as the farm manager and marketing point person Basnet’s energy is focused on production but she is “also passionate about educating other farmers about organic farming.”
She trains area farmers in the production of high value crops, such as Shitake mushrooms, so they can increase their income, and works with local students and organizes events to highlight the questions that sparked her own interest: “where does our food come from and how is it made?”
While it’s been a challenge to persuade people about the benefits of eating and growing organic food, Kheti Bazaar is making progress in convincing farmers to abandon the use of chemical pesticides, which Basnet hopes will “ultimately create a higher value market for them that is supported by a big customer base who will support this movement.”
So far, she says, “the most satisfying bit is that some farmers who have seen our system of production have become convinced by the health and environmental benefits of growing organically and are now starting to grow organically and keep local seeds.”
When a series of earthquakes struck Nepal in April 2015, sparking immediate need for food and shelter, Kheti Bazaar took up the mantle as an extension of their overall mission: to increase the resilience of farmers and the community in general to face potential threats to their livelihoods and food security.
Basnet, her sisters and the volunteers they recruited built approximately 200 shelters, including homes and food storage spaces to keep the harvest safe from the intense monsoon rains.
“We thought of building semi-permanent, rapid-build shelters made from natural materials, before the monsoon rains began,” Basnet says. “We wanted to use local knowledge and materials as this would mean that people were comfortable with the material they used and are familiar with the structures. Hence, we chose to make bamboo shelters as it was generally available in the area. The use of local resources as construction materials can help people understand the value and importance of local knowledge and materials.”
In looking broadly at the ramifications of the earthquake, Kheti Bazaar worried that “if people didn’t have space to live they would be less able to grow food, which could ultimately cause food insecurity,” Basnet says. “We also distributed local seeds, as many seeds were buried under collapsed houses. We are also building a bamboo school to ensure that children have a safe space to study.”
As the recovery continues, Kheti Bazaar is more determined than ever to connect with farmers and increase education and training.
“We are really hoping to start a seed bank to further our knowledge on local seeds,” says Basnet, who hopes to build enough of a bank to share with local and regional farmers so that they might no longer have to rely on buying hybrid seeds. “In addition, we want to create events such as documentary screenings and host talks to further educate people living in the city who are disconnected from their food production systems. We are excited to continuously work collaboratively with farmers and the public to create systems that help produce healthier food, people and environment for all.”