Tukis are traditional oil-fed lamps used to light village households. “Tukis” are also the trailblazing villagers who serve as unique agricultural extension workers in the Dolakha and Sindhupalchok districts, east of Kathmandu. As torch bearers for development, the 200 Tuki farmers in the area have, for many years, acted as information conduits, passing agricultural information to the villages. They have also channelled feedback from the farmers to scientists and bureaucrats.
“Unfortunately, what remains of the Tuki farmers is the last bright glow. The oil is almost used up and the lamp will soon go out,” says conservationist K.K. Panday, who has been involved with Tukis since the late 1970s. With the Swiss funded project scheduled to be wound up in 1990, he says it is likely that these “emissaries between the village and the project” will go their own individual ways. The villagers of the two districts will then, once again, slip back into dusk, if not darkness.
Move to Cash Crop
Dev Narayan Shrestha, as an open minded farmer, was attracted to the innovative ideas brought to his district by the Swiss experts. From them, the 54-year-old Dev Narayan learned cultivation techniques, appropriate fertilizer use, and advantageous marketing of produce. He planted a variety of fruit trees. With ever widening horizons, Dev Narayan pioneered raising pigs at home even though it was strictly taboo by caste. He recalls with a wry smile that at first he was regarded as a pariah in the village, but when the cash started flowing, the neighbours joined in enthusiastically.
“I started to think of my labour in term of cash, and everything looked different from then on,” says Dev Narayan. This step up from subsistence farming to cash crop agriculture was good, he decided, so he became a Tuki in order to spread the word to his skeptical neighbours. “I wanted to show them that they too could do what I did,” he says.
When Chitra Kumari Thapa returned home as the first woman Tuki, it was a completely new experience for her: “I could feel in me that I knew something which was useful.” At first, the men folk refused to accept her newfound knowledge and skills, but they fell in line when they listened more carefully to what she had to say about crop rotation, use of seeds and maintaining terraces.
When the Swiss Leave
The Government machinery is supposed to take over as the Swiss begin to pull out. Problems are already surfacing, however. The seeds that Thapa got from the local agriculture office did not germinate well, which led to a credibility problem for her as a Tuki. “We are answerable to the villagers but (we) are losing their trust,” she says. “It does not help if the seeds arrive in the district office after the sowing season is over.”
“The grassroots are motivated, but the administrators are the same old bunch,” says a Kathmandu expert, who asked not to be named. Panday, for his part, says that the voluntary nature of Tuki participation is unique, and they serve as a grassroots lobby, to keep the local government on its toes. Whether they will continue to be as effective will be clear by this time, next year.