A Marine Biologist in Nepal: Empowering Women through Aquaculture
I have always known I wanted to help people, but I never really knew how I was going to go about it. My strengths were always science based, but I didn’t want to become a doctor. I like the idea of teaching, but I didn’t want to be stuck in a bureaucratic school system. By the time my senior year of college rolled around, I was doing some serious soul searching. My double major in International Studies and Marine Biology seemed liked an odd combination to many, including myself, but after working with the nonprofit The Full Belly Project, I began to forge my own future endeavors. This organization innovates and distributes tools to rural communities based on the resources available. This sparked my own interests in sustainable development. I decided that I wanted to use my education to help communities protect, utilize, and sustainably manage their environmental resources to help develop and advance the community as a whole. Well known organizations that do this sort of thing include the Peace Corps, USAID, and the World Bank.
It was this aspiration that led me to take a post-baccalaureate research position in Nepal. Of course I was incredibly excited about the offer, but breaking the news to my dear Mom was hard. She knows I like to “gallivant around” and worries way too much. So I thought I would give her some perspective when telling her. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hey Mom, you know how I have been looking at internships and jobs for when after I graduate?”
Me: “I found one!” I’m going to Somalia!”
Mom: “ Samantha Danielle Farquhar! The hell you are, what th-“
Me: “Mom, Mom, Mom, I’m kidding, I’m kidding… Actually, I’m pregnant.”
Mom: “Samantha! What is wrong with you? What do you me-“
Me: “Mom, I’m just kidding, really though, I’m going to Nepal to help women. Isn’t that great?”
Mom: *puts head in hands
Nepal is located right above India and right below China. It is a landlocked country, meaning that there is no ocean in Nepal. For a marine biologist, this is a strange concept. Nepal is well known to mountaineers and trekkers as Mount Everest can be found here. However, I will not be climbing while here. I will be empowering women in rural communities.
It is a landlocked country, meaning that there is no ocean in Nepal. For a marine biologist, this is a strange concept.
The vast majority of the population (~80%) in Nepal live in rural areas. Over 5 million people are undernourished, with 41% of children under 5 stunted. While subsistence farming and livestock rearing have been traditional in rural areas, the effects of global climate change (such as melting of glaciers, uneven distribution of monsoonal rainfall and increasing floods and droughts) have made traditional agricultural methods less productive. This has made Nepal vulnerable to high food prices. This has contributed to the widespread hunger in some areas. Specifically, limited supply of animal protein and essential vitamins have caused malnutrition, in addition to health complications such as night-blindness and xerophthalmia.
Many of the malnourished are women and children, as men often migrate to urban areas or abroad to work. These women are stuck in traditional roles and have little opportunity. However, this is changing. A local university started an initiative designed to empower and nourish women in rural communities by teaching them how to farm fish in community ponds. This project began with 9 farmers in 2000, and has since grown to approximately 200. The farmers are almost entirely women and have reported an increased intake of protein and vitamin A. They also have empowered themselves economically by becoming business women who sell fish at the market, thus increasing their household income, which they often use to send their children to school.
This is where I, a young marine biologist, come in. In January, I hoped to be based in Rampur, Nepal. From here, I will travel to rural communities in the surrounding Himalayan foothills to meet with these women and learn from them. I hope to help them expand and improve the project. This will include implementing new aquaculture technology, evaluating the supply chain, hosting workshops to recruit new farmers, and assessing the socioeconomic benefits that the project has had on these women. Through this work, I am hoping to gain firsthand experience applying my education to solve problems, and more importantly, to help others–regardless of there being no ocean! I am also trying to convince my Mom to come visit me so she can worry less and gallivant around some herself.