Many people move from the countryside to the city because they see no future in their home villages. The problem is that there is often a lack of jobs in the city, too. If, however, city and country pull together, innovative small businesses can emerge that pave the way out of poverty.
A weed is spreading in the forests of Nepal, an invasive plant that suffocates the native vegetation and overruns everything around it. This poses a major problem. In Nepal's cities, women and men need fuel for cooking and heating. They live far away from the forests and trees that provide firewood. Another problem.
It was then discovered that the weeds could be made into charcoal. Men and women living in rural, forested regions are now removing this weed from the undergrowth, burning it into charcoal crumbs in specially developed mobile kilns, and delivering them to the nearest town. Here, the crumbs are pressed into pellets and sold in supermarkets in handy five-kilogram bags. The product has a certain urban sophistication, which boosts sales. What's more, burning these charcoal pellets produces almost no smoke, and they generate more heat than fossil coal.
With this development, not just two, but three problems were solved. Firstly, the forest is recovering, and secondly, the city is supplied with energy. Above all, "green jobs" have been created for disadvantaged people in rural areas. With their income, they ensure their families' survival, and often their children's education.
In the countryside or in small and medium-sized towns, SMEs can improve the economic situation, and therefore the living conditions, of the population. Whereas large donors prefer to invest in large cities where there is a business infrastructure. Resourceful small-scale entrepreneurs, like the charcoal producers, create jobs away from these centres in small towns – and in rural areas.
People with good business ideas are everywhere, regardless of how long they have attended school. However, it is often difficult to put these ideas into practice due to a lack of entrepreneurial know-how or start-up capital. Since 2006, Helvetas has been helping poor, disadvantaged women and men develop and test their business ideas, and find investors and customers. Thousands of jobs have been created as a result – 4500 in 2017 alone.
New types of businesses have already emerged: innovative banana producers have refined the processing of stripped stocks. Today, they produce paper from them in growing small businesses, which fills a gap in the market due to the shortage of raw materials and paper in Nepal – and creates jobs.
The network between town and country is becoming denser and denser thanks to these small businesses. There are the women in the countryside who grow or gather mint, lemongrass and eucalyptus leaves to produce the essential oils that are in demand in the city. An energy-saving method for the production of cottage cheese is currently being tested. And a new process for producing potato chips has already found its first buyers. New products and delicacies are being created that can be sold in the city – from the region, for the region.