“Now I have a new dream.”
Nepal’s returning migrants find a better future at home.
Dhurba Pokharel, 31, had spent seven years in Saudi Arabia as a supervisor in a gas plant when he was forced to return home to Nepal due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He had mixed feelings. Happy because he was reuniting with his family, but worried about how he would be able to support them without a steady income.
The COVID-19 Crisis Management Center has reported that, as of June 2021, a total of 465,850 Nepalis had returned home from places such as the Persian Gulf states, Malaysia and India. The majority of them have lost their livelihoods and are being compelled to remain with no or limited income.
A recent study by ILO suggests that most migrant workers would drop their plans to return to foreign countries if they could find employment at home. Agriculture and domestic work are the main employment options for them.
In a bid to help address this issue, UNDP reprogrammed two projects and worked with returnee migrants to pave the way to new opportunities that could help them earn a decent living.
Saraswati Marasini, 40, a mother of two, was working in India as a receptionist when COVID-19 started ravaging the country. Feeling devastated and not knowing what to do next, she came back to her hometown, Putalibazar, in Syangja. Jobless and economically distressed, Saraswati found herself in urgent need of new income opportunities to keep her family afloat.
With the support of local governments, the Value Chain Development of Fruit and Vegetables Project (VCDP), a joint initiative of Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Korea International Cooperation Agency and UNDP identified returnee migrants such as Saraswati who opted for agri-entrepreneurship as a way of generating income to support themselves and their families.
The project provided future entrepreneurs with a comprehensive support package. Business planning training was set up to help them decide which commodities to sell, and how to make an investment plan. It was followed by technical training on commercial farming and cultivation under polyhouses.
VCDP reviewed each business plan and provided resources such as seeds, polyhouses and mini tillers. Sixteen returnee migrants have successfully produced tomatoes and are becoming financially stable.
“I felt I am not alone and people were there to help me. I received two polyhouses, two plastic drums with pipes for drip irrigation, plastics for mulching and one mini-tiller. It was such a thrilling experience as I managed to produce 1,545 kg of tomatoes,” Saraswati said.
The difficulties faced by migrant returnees in meeting basic needs is particularly high among those from the impoverished Karnali and Sudurpashcim provinces. There was an immediate need for job market and skill assessment.
Support to Knowledge and Lifelong Learning Skills Programme (SKILLS), another UNDP project, supported the federal Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Social Development of Sudurpaschim province to conduct a first of its kind skill mapping survey. The exercise forecasted that 51,542 skilled workers will be required in the province for the next three years, in fields such as engineering and construction, agriculture forestry and fisheries, as well as tourism and hospitality.
To help meet the demand, SKILLS and the National Youth Council joined forces in October 2020 to run a programme which supported 87 returnees each in Kalilali and Kanchapur districts of Sudurpaschim Province.
UNDP’s support is meant to lay the foundation for longer term economic recovery and social cohesion for migrant returnees.
And Dhurba is keen to spread his new knowledge.
“I am now knowledgeable about commercial farming. Now I have a new dream. A dream that I build an agriculture learning centre in my own village. I want to share what I learnt to many others who stand to benefit from the same,” he said.