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Extension under a political insurgency: Gaining approval of Maoist rebels in Nepal

Rajendra Uprety

District Agriculture Development Office, Morang, Nepal, Email


All rural development in Nepal is facing severe difficulties because of the restriction of government officials' movement in the field due to the Maoist insurgency. This has led to new initiatives by the District Agriculture Development Office, Morang, in promoting a "System of Rice Intensification" (SRI). The entire situation was against this initiative at the start, but we published a monthly newsletter, booklets, self-explanatory posters, and used an agricultural program on local FM radio to promote the project and interest farmers. In spite of resource constraints and initial Maoist opposition, these initiatives produced very successful results. The publications and FM radio broadcasts helped greatly to disseminate the technical messages. Incentive packages for extension workers were used to motivate extension staff in moving around the districts. Farmer trainers and NGO staff now work effectively in distant areas from district headquarters, in disseminating SRI methods within the districts and other parts of the country. The Maoists, who were against any development activities from government, became positive about SRI promotion activities when they saw its value to local people, and they did not create any disturbance to staff movements. An SRI promotion project proposed by the DADO for work in Morang and Panchthar districts won a competition, Nepal Development Marketplace 2005, organized by World Bank/Kathmandu.

Three key learnings

(1) An integrated approach worked well in difficult situations to disseminate a new technology that has inherent attractiveness to farmers, such as the SRI method. (2) Printed materials/publications and local FM radio were found effective in disseminating information about the program and technical messages during the restriction of staff movement by rebels (3) A good initiative that clearly benefits the poor and marginalized farmers can receive positive response and gain support from all stakeholders in development.

Key Words

Rice, intensification, newsletter, FM radio, staff movement, incentives, motivation


Nepal has had a Maoist insurgency since 1995. During this insurgency, the Maoist forces have often disturbed and stopped government development work and initiatives. They have destroyed several government headquarters in different districts, and several agriculture development offices were also damaged during fighting with government armed forces. The District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) Morang also faced such disturbances, including the burning of a Toyota pickup vehicle and a motorcycle by Maoist rebels. The Regional Agriculture Directorate located at Biratnagar was exploded and damaged. All government vehicles have been restricted from operating outside the district headquarters. In this way most development work was disturbed, and consequently some agriculture development projects in the pipeline failed to reach agreement and implementation. This created serious budget deficits in all development activities. Government development offices have been kept open, but mostly to show their existence.

DADO Morang is a district branch of government to support and monitor agricultural development activities in the district. It has been restructured in light of current circumstances, and its agriculture service centers were reduced at 7 from 17, and technical staff were cut from 48 to 28 within the district. The working situation was very difficult with government officials' movement restricted by insurgency, yet the staff need to service larger areas and to travel farther than before to reach farmers. In 2005, the World Bank’s Kathmandu office and the Poverty Alleviation Fund/Nepal jointly organized a competition called the Nepal Development Marketplace 2005 in an effort to stimulate development efforts. DADO Morang was the only government office among 20 award winners selected out of 1137 competitors, receiving $18,000 for its proposed "System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Promotion Project.”

Since 1989, to increase its coverage, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives/Nepal has been using a group approach in its agricultural extension strategy. But this approach has not been very effective in increasing the service coverage percentage (Joshi and Kunwar, 1998; HMG/N and UNICEF, 1998), and small and marginal farmers were always neglected (Yadav, 1998). To overcome this situation, DADO initiated collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations, the private sector (FM radio), and leader farmers to accomplish the objectives of the SRI Promotion Project.


The SRI method was new and involved adopting very different practices for most of the farmers. To introduce new methods in a large area was not an easy task in such a difficult situation. Some new initiatives were needed to disseminate our messages. We started to publish an 8-page monthly newsletter called "Farmers Friend," made a poster and booklet on SRI, and began broadcasting an agricultural program on local FM radio. FM radios are very popular in Nepal for entertainment, news and other information dissemination. So DADO chose a local FM radio station, Saptakoshi FM (a private company), as a partner for the "SRI Promotion Project."

Motivating technicians for fieldwork was particularly difficult because of the Maoist insurgency. Hence, DADO announced an incentives package for the office staff (payment according to their work) and also it used “leader-farmers” (last-season SRI farmers who had gained experience and confidence) as trainers. Orientation training was organized for the extension workers, NGO/CBO staff, and leader-farmers about the SRI method. These arrangements provided the momentum to speed up our activities in the field. Field-level staff and collaborators conducted training for farmers in a decentralized way about SRI methods. The publications and FM radio programs were regarded as supporting the efforts of field workers. The team leader and senior staff undertook regular monitoring and technical feedback.

Field visits and interaction programs were also organised with farmers for media personnel who came to the field. Most of the national newspapers, magazines and television stations became involved in supporting our SRI activities, as our mission was entirely one of public service, which could be supported by anyone, without any political or sectarian interest or advantage.

First-stage outcomes

This effort is still in its early stages, so only an interim report can be give at this stage. At the start of the SRI project, the situation was very difficult, and we had a big challenge to overcome. Generally, the public and media blame government offices for their ineffectiveness to deliver services and lack of creativity for change. DADO Morang had the opportunity to show its effectiveness and efficiency by winning a NDM 2005 award. Its leaders took on responsibility to accomplish the targets and to demonstrate the importance and potential of SRI in the Nepalese context. We had held some demonstrations of SRI performance in the previous season, and the results had created a sensation among farmers within and outside the Morang district. Hence, SRI methods became a high-demand package among farmers. We used that opportunity to publish a special volume on SRI methods, using FM radio programs and the monthly newsletter.

The information on radio and in newsletters led many farmers who did not have a special designation like leader-farmer to start demanding training in SRI methods in their localities. But Maoists restricted Government vehicles from plying the roads to villages (outside the district headquarters), which greatly curtailed movement for training. We communicated this problem to farmers, and because the farmers wanted to learn SRI methods (at any cost), they contacted local Maoist leaders and requested that technicians' mobility not be interfered with. Once recognizing the importance of SRI and farmers’ demand of its methods for poor and marginal farmers the Maoists became more supportive toward our project activities. But they still restricted the mobility of government vehicles, which were essential to our work. To reach large areas, again farmers talked about this matter with rebels, who agreed to allow motorcycles with private number plates (red color number plate with white number) to travel freely. The colors of project motorcycle number plates were changed, and staff started visiting farmers' fields to give SRI training.

After announcement of the incentive package, the field staff became ready to work in a wider area and competed with each other to form small teams of 2-3 members. Their mobility rate greatly increased, and staff even declined to take holidays. The improved staff mobility produced positive results and will help to accomplish our ultimate target and objectives.

Besides this, participating farmers now feel that DADO is an office for their help and support. The contact between farmers and extension workers during field training attracted farmers towards DADO, and this further helped DADO staff in their later work. The number of farmers who visit DADO has greatly increased. The SRI promotion also led media reporters to take an interest in our activities and to highlight our activities in their newspaper and magazine reports. Most national newspapers, magazines and television channels have now published and telecast our activities with importance. After a very positive article in the Nepal Times, the BBC World Service also telecast a report from the Morang district on SRI activities there. This publicity on our district was observed in different parts of Nepal, and the effect was that farmers and development workers started to contact us for further information. BBC is a very respected source of information.) DADO produced 1000 copies of the SRI method booklet with financial support from CIIFAD, and these were distributed among farmers and development workers nationally. The Agriculture Information and Communication Center (Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative/Nepal) subsequently produced 10,000 copies of a color poster about SRI methods and distributed this nationwide through its district branches, to meet the demands from farmers.

Collaborative efforts of various stakeholders made project implementation easier. Multi-channel communication produced very impressive results, and every week the number of SRI farmers has increased (Table 1). The majority of SRI farmers were initially from medium and small landholders plus several farmers who were landless but who cultivate on leasehold land. Now, all stakeholders feel ownership of the project. Many organizations/offices have visited our SRI fields. Within two years from its starting date, SRI method is well established in Morang district and spreading around the country.

Table 1. Numbers of SRI farmers within Morang district (2003-2005)


Number of VDCs* with SRI plot

Number of farmers used SRI method


2003 normal season (July-November)




2004 early season (February-July)




2004 normal season (July-November)




2005 early season (February-July)



With CIIFAD support

2005 normal season (July-November)

53 (out of 65)


After NDM 2005 award

*VDC: Village Development Committee

During implementation it was found that farmer-trainers (farmers who had done SRI for themselves and were then given training to disseminate their learning to peers) were more effective than trained extension workers. One farmer trainer had been instrumental in ‘converting’ about 100 conventional farmers to SRI farmers. This shows that leader-farmers can be effective for extension work, if provided with basic training and have strong farming experience. Another finding was that a collaborative approach (public, private and NGO collaboration) could be very effective in conducting extension programs.


In spite of resource constraints and initial opposition from a Maoist insurgency, a series of new initiatives produced successful results in promoting a new rice intensification system. Publication and FM radio helped greatly to disseminate the technical message and create awareness of the new package and its benefits to farmers. An incentive package for extension workers created motivation within the extension staff, in terms of improving their mobility. Farmer-trainers and NGO staff work effectively in areas distant from district headquarters. These new initiatives of District Agriculture Development Office, Morang, resulted in effective dissemination of SRI methods within the district and then other parts of Nepal. Maoist rebels, who were initially against any government development activities, became supportive of SRI promotion activities when approached by farmers to remove restrictions on movement of vehicles used for extension activities.


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