The poor need to be treated as subjects and not objects of development, in order to achieve that resources are directly transferred to the organizations of the poor...

Acceptance speech – Shrikrishna Upadhyay / SAPPROS

(The Speech was read by Mr. Narendra Bahadur, Executive Director, SAPPROS)

It is with regret, that I inform you that Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhaya, mourning for his mother’s death at this very moment, is unable to be here to receive the prestigious Right Livelihood Award 2010. My name is Narendra Bahadur K.C., serving as the Executive Director of SAPPROS Nepal, speaking on behalf of Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhaya and the organization. I am accompanied by Dr. Jyoti Bhattarai, daughter of Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhayay.

I also want to welcome our honourable ambassador from Nepal to Denmark, Mr. Vijay Lal Karna who graciously agreed to join the ceremony and came all the way from Copenhagen.

Mr. Shree Krishna Upadhayay urged me to convey the following message to this assembly.

This is actually the recognition of the contribution by the poor of Nepal who have shown their wisdom and creativity in coming out of poverty.

It is an honour for those individuals and organizations that have joined the mass movement in community development, managing common property resources and providing public goods and services in rural areas of Nepal. On this occasion I want to salute them. This will encourage all of us to continue our mission to develop Nepal as a democratic, peaceful, equitable, inclusive, stable and important part of the world community.

I want to thank the jury for recognizing our efforts in poverty alleviation and awarding us the Right Livelihood Award 2010.

The magnitude of poverty in Nepal is very high with dehumanizing levels in the mid and far western region of the country. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) developed by Oxford University, Nepal has the highest rate of poverty in the South Asian Region – almost two thirds of the population. This level of poverty gives ground forfrustration, particularly among the youth, resulting in escalated levels of conflict which Nepal has experienced in the past.

We realized that poverty reduction needed to be on the main agenda of development and had done some work at the grassroots level. It did not take us long to realize that efforts through the government bureaucratic structures gave some positive results, but not enough..

We were fed up with the shifting priorities of donor countries, particularly as they insisted on more emphasis on management of credit operations and less on developmental aspects. Visiting small producers, artisans and wage earners,,we realized that they not only needed financial assistance, but also technology, access to markets and above all, capacity building to manage local resources. This required building trust in the relationshiop with the people and to believe in their wisdom and indigenous knowledge system, subsequently supported by external interventions.

Finding the right match between local resources and external support was important, so that the communities did not become overly dependent on external support. During our work with the Small Farmer Development Programme, we observed that external pressure to disburse funds without preparations at the grassroots level had resulted in an over dependency on external resources. We were also not clear on the entry point of interventions which would trigger development and build faith among poor communities.

So, we decided to implement an Action Research Project on Social Mobilisation in a few villages of the Gorkha District in 1991. We started by training social mobilizers and group leaders in the art of building organizations for the poor. We trekked for days in those remote villages to learn about their aspirations and talked to them about finding creative solutions. We did not have many resources to share with them except ideas from our past experience. The mutual trust and participatory learning exercise helped us to believe in the capability of poor producers to uplift them.

Based upon the action research,we developed the social mobilization manual using pictures because most of the people were illiterate. Later on, we made videos and used video projectors going from one village to another organizing people. Since the model was based upon contradictions in the society, people understood the logic of the poor being exploited due to unequal power relations.

Once we started building separate organizations for the poor, there was considerable resistance from landlords, moneylenders, traders and local politicians.

As small producers became more self reliant and independent, the conflict came to the surface and some of our staff were even threatened. As savings increased, moneylenders were pressured to lower their interest rate. With increased economic activities, wages gradually increased. The wage laborers also benefited, resulting in reduced labour supply for landlords. The landless became tenants and started benefiting from access to new technology and a growing urban market for vegetables and horticultural products.

People were able to meet their food needs and generate some surplus for the market. They were able to send their children to school and there was demand for school buildings and suspension bridges for gaining access to these services. As the effectiveness of our programme increased, news spread “SAPPROS does what it says”. Support started pouring in and our confidence level increased. We were able to mobilize more and more resources and using them more effectively.

After gaining experience, we decided to move to other districts and finally went to the most remote districts of the mid and far Western region. Amongst them Mugu was the most underdeveloped district, falling to the lowest in all development indicators including a life expectancy of 39 years.

As we moved to that region, the Maoist conflict heightened into full scale and civil war covering almost all parts of the country.

Also in other districts, we had to operate between two groups fighting each other whilst maintaining complete neutrality. Our staff were resolute and with their strong support we succeeded in expanding our operations into those remote areas.
We were able to develop a poverty reduction model which is people-based, people-driven and result oriented. This experiment increased our faith in the creativity of people.

During the conflict, we realized that our efforts would not be enough to heal the wounds and that people needed to be treated with compassion given the amount of hatred being generated amongst the different segments of society. Those in power had exploited the poor for too long and for that reason it was easier to galvanize the anger against the powerful class and launch a class struggle on Marxist principles.

We strongly believe in an harmony model where the poor are treated with equality and justice to enable them to be effective citizens in society. We believe in building democracy from the grassroots with community organizations acting as the primary school of democracy.

We needed a strong structure in the form of a multisectoral fund which could support community initiatives directly without going through the bureaucracy. It took almost 12 years of struggle and advocacy to convince the rulers that such a fund was necessary and finally the Poverty Alleviation Fund was set up in 2004 with World Bank assistance.

Our journey to this stage has been difficult and arduous but faith and confidence in people power has kept us going and we have become more resilient.

We believe we need to forge alliances within and outside to mobilize support for the cause of the poor so that they become subjects and not objects of development.

Recognition in the form of the Right Livelihood Award 2010 has strengthened our cause and given us new hope to continue our journey until the mission of eradicating poverty is achieved. We need the support of all of you including the media to highlight the plight of the poor and also to give us strength to remove poverty.

In closing, I want to quote Nelson Mandela who said “To overcome poverty is not an act of charity; it is an act of Justice.”¬†Therefore the time has come to do justice to the poor.

Thank you all.

Sappros (Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal)
PO Box 8708 / Prashuti Ghriha Marga 400/28
Phone : 977-1-4244913/4242318/4232129
Fax: +977-1-4242143