In recent decades agrarian restructuring has become a near-ubiquitous phenomenon
and often a major development objective in much of the Third World, as villages and
village households have turned from dependence on subsistence farming towards greater
dependence on small-scale commercial agriculture and off-farm employment. Whatever
the particular characteristics and causes, the process of change has often been highly
selective : led by those households which are better educated, better...[Show more] ‘connected’ to
political elites, more skilled, wealthier, more ready to take risks with capital, or more
prepared to take up distant employment.
This study is centred on two neighbouring villages in Kaski District of central Nepal,
where economic change in the past 30 years has to a large extent stemmed from the
injection of relative wealth, acquired by Gurung households from the service pay and army
pensions earned by present and former Gurkha soldiers, serving in the British and Indian
The economic changes from this cause are recent. The study investigates an early stage
in the process of agrarian restructuring. One salient factor, pursued in the core chapters-(3,
4 and 5), has been the circulation of Gurungs’ greater cash income for wage employment
and the renting of farmland. Gurung households are one of the main ethnic groups in the
two-village community (199 households) : Gurungs comprise 30 per cent, Brahmins 31
per cent, Chettris 20 per cent and members of the Occupational Caste 19 per cent
(formerly known as ‘untouchables’).
In the introductory Part I of the thesis (Chapters 1 and 2) the existing problems of
population growth and resource scarcity in central Nepal are examined, together with the
historical reasons behind the existence of a hierarchical social structure coupled with the
current marked disparities in access to resources and education.
Part II (Chapters 3, 4 and 5) examines the recent changes in household economic
strategies of different ethnic groups. There have been growing differences between ethnic
groups in their access to different sources of income and in their resource utilization
patterns. Moreover, economic interdependence between ethnic groups has also grown
through the greater renting of land and the employment of wage labourers. These changes
have helped some households, mainly Gurung, Brahmin and Chettri. Occupational Caste
households (landless) who in earlier years were in effect attached labourers working for
higher castes households^ have so far been sustained mainly by low-wage employment.
Part III (Chapters 6 and 7) examines reasons for the continued plight of the
disadvantaged poor, notably their lack of access to forest resources (nominally owned in
common) and their worsening inequality, despite some of the Nepal government’s well intentioned
programs. In the short term the bureaucracy and political establishment, with
their roots in the long-existing social structure, have continued to help the wealthier and
more influential ethnic groups to gain major advantages as national-level development
proceeds. For the present at least, many low-paid and near-illiterate members of the
Occupational Caste remain voluntary captives in their villages, but as rural development
proceeds (helped by necessary improvements in education and training), the next stage in
agrarian restructuring seems likely to see a stronger movement of the poor to take up
urban-based, non-farm employment.
Intensive fieldwork in the two-village study area was carried out in 1989-90,
supplemented by fieldwork of a more general kind in Kaski District in 1993-94.
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