Nepal's returning migrants find a better place at home

December 1, 2021

Dhurba Pokharel, 31, a returnee migrant in Putalibazar, had already spent 7 years in Saudi Arabia as a supervisor in a gas plant when he was forced to return home due to the global pandemic. He said he had mixed feelings while on his way back home. Happy because he was reuniting with his family, but worried as to how would he be able to support his family without a steady income.

Saraswati Marasini, 40, a mother of two, was working in India as receptionist when COVID 19 started ravaging the country. Feeling devastated not knowing what to do next, she came back to her hometown, Putalibazar, in Syangja, Nepal.. Jobless and economically distressed, Sharaswati found herself in urgent need of new income generation opportunities to keep her family afloat during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Crisis Management Center (CCMC) has reported that, as of June 2021, 465,850 Nepali workers from 60 different countries have returned home. Majority of them have lost their livelihood opportunities and are being compelled to remain with no or limited income.

A recent study by ILO (2020) suggests that most migrant workers are willing to drop their plans to rebound to foreign countries if they could find an employment opportunity back home. Agriculture and domestic works were noted as 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 for new opportunities that could help them earn a decent living.

With the support of local governments, the Value Chain Development of Fruit and Vegetables Project (VCDP), a joint initiatve of Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and UNDP identified returnee migrants who wished to opt for agri-entrepreneurship as a way of generating income to support themselves and their families. Sharaswati and Dhurba were among them.

The project provided future entrepreneurs a comprehensive support package. A business planning training was imparted to help them decide which commodities to sell and make an investment/return plan. It was then followed by technical training on commercial farming and cultivation under polyhouse.

VCDP reviewed each business plan and provided needed in-kind resources such as seed, polyhouse, or mini tillers, accordingly. To date, 16 returnee migrants have successfully produced tomatoes and recorded seasonal revenue stream of anywhere between 12,000-100,000 rupees each.

“I felt I am not alone and people were there to help me. I received 2 polyhouses, 2 plastic drums with pipers for drip irrigation, plastics for mulching, and 1 mini-tiller. It was such a thrilling experience as I managed to produce 1,545kg of tomatoes,” said Saraswati

The difficulties faced by migrant returnees in meeting basic needs is particularly high among those from the impoverished Karnali and Sudurpashcim provinces. Therefore, there was immediate need for job market and skill needs assessment of these provinces.  

Support to Knowledge and Lifelong Learning Skills Programme (SKILLS), another UNDP project, thus 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 human resources will be required in Sudurpaschim Province for the next 3 years: (I) Engineering/construction (15,860), (ii) Agriculture/Forestry/Fisheries (10,306), Tourism and Hospitality (8,218), (iii) Health (5,407), (iv) Secretarial Management (3,962), (v) Handicrafts (2,277), Education/Pedagogy (787), and Others (4,725).

To help meet the demand, SKILLS and National Youth Council joined hands in October 2020 to run a program titled, ”Workplace Based Learning and Earning Program.” It supported 87 migrant returnees of two local levels each in Kalilali and Kanchapur districts of Sudurpaschim Province to engage in self employment opportunities in agriculture and livestock related occupations while using skills, knowledge and experiences they gained aboard to the benefit of their and their communities.  

UNDP’s support is meant to lay the foundation for longer term economic recovery and social cohesion for migrant returnees.

“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,” Dhurba added.