The vocational training program in the Bihar region has been operational for 11 years. It began as a series of workshops for women in financial and social difficulty to develop basic skills for employment  and has evolved into several autonomous vocational training centers operated from our offices in Bodhgaya (in Bihar) and Hata (in Jharkhand).

In 2023, we expanded our programs to include vocational training focused on agriculture and this initiative was implemented in Darjeeling, our newest intervention area, (located in the state of West Bengal in northern India). In July 2023 a series of training courses were set up with the aim of improving farmers’ livelihoods. Each course focused on growing orchids, oranges, strawberries and mushrooms, as well as innovative practices such as permaculture, floriculture and beekeeping.

Identifying regional issues 

Karuna and its teams are committed to addressing specific development needs in each of our areas of intervention.In Darjeeling, the baseline survey and needs assessment revealed several challenges faced by the region’s farmers : 

  • Due to geographic isolation, they earn low daily wages, generally between 250 and 300 rupees, approximately 3 US dollars.
  • Seeds are not readily available in local markets, so farmers have to travel about 20 km to the hill towns of Kurseong, Darjeeling or Siliguri to obtain seeds.
  • None of the people interviewed for the survey had received any training in farming techniques.

In July 2023, based on the difficulties identified by the farmers, a training program began that informed farmers about several crops they could grow in their area and provided useful information about how to grow those crops.

Growing and diversifying cultures

July and August 2023, Floriculture 

Floriculture is the planting and cultivation of flowering plants. Because flowers are not considered a dietary staple and require a substantial investment by farmers these crops have not been developed in Darjeeling, although they can be a significant source of income.

In July and August 2023, two training sessions on floriculture were held with a total of 74 participants. Through these sessions, participants were introduced to new farming practices.

Following the training, everyone received flowers and a subsidy equivalent to 3 dollars per person. With the knowledge acquired during the sessions and the first sprouts provided by Karuna farmers are now planting these crops.

September 2023, Orchid cultivation 

In the Pokhriabong and Nagari regions of Darjeeling growing orchids was once a skill passed down from generation to generation. However, the loss of traditional knowledge and the spread of various diseases and pests over time have diminished both male and female farmers’ interest and enthusiasm for growing orchids.

The valley was once known as the ‘orchid valley’. I want to revive this culture by training as many people as possible.

Bhaskar Rai, trainer and owner of Mukhia Nursery

The training provided an opportunity to explain to the 19 participants, the advantages of this crop, and how to effectively combat pests and orchid specific diseases. With a minimum investment of 5,000 rupees (54 euros, 60 dollars), a farmer can earn five times more than that when the orchids are sold in markets.

September to November 2023, Mushroom cultivation

From September to November 2023, three mushroom cultivation workshops were organized. The 66 participants acquired the skills and techniques needed to grow their own mushrooms effectively. According to the trainer, with an investment of just 5,000 rupees (60 dollars)- , a beneficiary can grow up to 23 kg of mushrooms, which sell for just over 2 dollars a kilo. This investment can enable each participant to achieve a degree of financial independence.

Thanks to the mushroom training course, I realized that I was making certain mistakes in the growing process. The trainer was kind enough to check my mushroom cylinders and give me advice on the matter.

Pankaj Chettri, participant
Help empower Darjeeling farmers
November 2023, Beekeeping

In November 2023 a new perspective on beekeeping was offered to 22 farmers. A workshop provided them with training in the entire process beginning with instruction in setting up the hives and ending with bottling the honey.

Beekeeping is seen as a profitable activity that can provide a reliable and sustainable source of income for local people. Bees are excellent pollinators of fruits and crops, and play an important role in agricultural production. By preserving the genetic diversity of plants, bees strengthen the resilience of ecosystems. Faced with declining bee populations due to pesticides and climate change, the training also aims to raise awareness about the challenge of preserving local biodiversity to achieve sustainable food production and maintain ecological balance.

December 2023, Orange cultivation

Traditionally a major pillar of Darjeeling’s economy, orange trees have suffered a sharp decline in recent years due to parasites and diseases. To boost production, the local government has provided orange seedlings to farmers in the region, but inadequate knowledge about the correct methods for growing the oranges has limited the success of this initiative. In response, the farmers requested advice and on December 15th 2023, 40 farmers participated in a horticulture session that provided them with useful information. A healthy orange tree can produce around 50 oranges after 4 to 5 years of harvesting. With proper care, these trees can even live for a century.

The various vocational training courses focusing on horticulture and agriculture met with an extremely positive response. Kushal Gurung, who took part in the training, was able to gain a better understanding of this crop : “I started growing orange trees around ten years ago and currently have 12 trees. Being relatively new to growing this fruit, I was unable to harvest properly and maintain the groves effectively, which led to the death of some of my trees. I’m very happy to have finally found the kind of training I’ve been looking for all this time. It’s been very beneficial ; I’ve learnt a lot. I’m looking forward to more training courses and workshops like this in the future.”

I learned a lot, particularly about pest control techniques, such as the right proportion of chemicals to use and how to apply them effectively. We have new plants and intend to grow them thanks to today’s training

Buddha Bir Gurung, participant
Encourage agricultural diversification in Darjeeling
Permaculture training

Darjeeling is a popular tourist destination. Over the last few decades, mass tourism has impacted the region’s environment, notably through deforestation, the expansion of hotels and the massive production of waste. Conscious that awareness needed to be raised about the harmful impact of this tourism boom, the Karuna-Shechen teams organized a training session in permaculture, a form of agriculture that draws its inspiration from nature and encourages the good practices observed in flourishing natural ecosystems

20 participants were taught how to live in harmony with their current environment and the region’s biodiversity, through waste reduction, reuse and recycling, as well as agricultural composting and the basic principles of waste management. The training also provided useful knowledge on how to transform a region into a green village and sustain farming activities through responsible tourism.

The enthusiastic feedback from the various training courses encourages us to continue delivering the training sessions. The teams are committed to monitoring the progress of each participant and evaluating the impact of this program over the coming years. In the near future, Karuna-Shechen plans to provide training on the commercial aspect of production, to help farmers sell their products at a fair price and maximize the economic benefits of their success.

Cultivating financial independence
Help train farmers in Darjeeling