Asta-Ja is a theoretically grounded grassroots-based planning and management framework for conservation, development, and utilization of natural and human resources. Asta-Ja means eight of the Nepali letter “Ja” [Jal (water), Jamin (land), Jungle (forest), Jadibuti (medicinal and aromatic plants), Janashakti (manpower), Janawar, (animals), Jarajuri (crop plants), and Jalabayu (climate)]. Asta-Ja promotes accelerated economic growth and socio-economic transformation of the nation. It is a scientific, holistic, systematic, self-reliant, and multidisciplinary framework for the conservation, development, and utilization of Asta-Ja resources.
The eight elements of the Asta-Ja system are very intricately linked and strongly connected. Hence, it is important to have sustainable conservation and development of each of the eight elements of Asta-Ja for better functioning of the entire system. Simply put, if a farmer in a smallholder farming system wants to be successful in dairy production (Janawar), he/she should emphasize sustainable management and development of Jamin for feed production, Jal for water supply, Jungle for fodder and forages and environmental services, Janshakti for animal nutrition, health, and management, and pay attention to Jalabayu for climate change adaptation.
This will bring a great deal of synergy within the Asta-Ja system resulting in a higher level of dairy farm productivity and environmental quality. The Jalabayu (climate) serves as the most critical and central driving element of the Asta-Ja system. Any changes in weather or climatic conditions will influence all other Jas. The dairy farmer must have access to all eight resources for his/her success.
The Asta-Ja Framework has eight principles for its practical application:
Policy decision making,
Interrelationships and linkages,
Sustainable technologies and practices,
Institutions, trade, and governance, and
Sustainable community development and socio-economic transformation.
The principle of community awareness plays a pivotal role in the Asta-Ja Framework. Grassroots communities are the ultimate agents of change and the beneficiaries. The principle of community capacity-building emphasizes self-reliance, local-level planning, and development of environmental and natural resources for the socio-economic transformation of the nation. The principle of decision making underscores effective policy measures for sustainable development, conservation, and utilization of natural resources for socio-economic transformation. To develop effective policy measures, it emphasizes grassroots-based bottom-up multisector, participatory, and holistic approaches in problem assessment and analysis and the identification of alternative solutions.
The principle of interrelationships and linkages stresses that Asta-Ja resources are intricately linked to each other and requires a deep understanding of these relationships for the sustainable development and utilization. Similarly, the principle of comprehensive assessment emphasizes the detailed assessment of Asta-Ja resources. The principle of sustainable technologies and practices emphasizes research and development in technologies and practices and innovations for sustainable conservation, utilization, and development of Asta-Ja resources.
The principle of institutions, trade, and governance focuses on institutional strengthening, governance, and domestic and foreign trades. It emphasizes handling diverse Asta-Ja related concerns including ownerships, decision-making, resource sharing, customs and duties, trade barriers and restrictions, and international relations. Finally, the overarching principle of sustainable community development and socio-economic transformation emphasizes the implementation of integrated developmental initiatives across the nation to target specific communities for sustainable utilization and development of Asta-Ja resources, income generation, and socio-economic transformation.
Communities must be free from poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, and must have the basic infrastructure for quality education, health services, employment opportunities, peace and security, excellent environmental quality, and resiliency. The Asta-Ja Framework presents an opportunity for community capacity-building by addressing community resource problems comprehensively and holistically.
The Asta-Ja Framework serves as a unifying guide for environmental and natural resource planning and management. Through this framework, all governmental and non-governmental agencies, private businesses, community organizations, academia, international aid agencies, and other stakeholders, who are concerned with the Asta-Ja resources, can come together in planning and management. The Asta-Ja Framework helps us in comprehending and understanding the critical natural and human resources system in a more effective way and in serving as an invaluable platform for all stakeholders engaged in the Asta-Ja system to work together efficiently in the assessment, understanding, conservation, and utilization of Asta-Ja resources for sustainable development.
Through the Asta-Ja Framework, international programs and initiatives such as Climate Actions, SDGs, and Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction can be effectively linked to grassroots communities and organizations and can strengthen global efforts to effectively tackle issues such as natural resource management, sustainable development, food and energy, income generation, poverty eradication, natural disaster management, community resiliency, environmental quality, and Global Climate Change. Asta-Ja Framework brings the power of eight “Ja” in sustainable development, socio-economic transformation, and environmental quality.
Some of the strategies taken by Asta-Ja Framework for sustainable conservation, utilization, and development of Asta-Ja resources and fast-paced socio-economic transformation of Nepalese society are:
- Establishment and the development of Asta-Ja database,
- Asta-Ja Investment Information System (AJIIS) design,
- Incentives and community motivation for Asta-Ja resources management, utilization and problem solving,
- Asta-Ja community organizations and partnership development,
- Economic analysis,
- Agro-Jadibuti industrialization, and
- Monitoring, evaluation, and reporting.
Similarly, Asta-Ja Framework has established its policy guidelines which include,
- Comprehensive approach,
- Long-term perspective,
- Competitive advantage,
- Global climate change,
- Interdisciplinary approach,
- Public participation,
- Environmental and economic priorities, and
- Collaborative model.
As the founder of the Asta-Ja Framework, this author has published several journal articles on this topic after publishing his first groundbreaking article on Asta-Ja, “Management of Eight ‘Ja’ for Economic Development in Nepal, Journal of Comparative International Management, 11(1): 1-13”, in 2008. Other major articles published specifically to Asta-Ja Framework are:
- Asta-Ja Environmental and Natural Resources Policy Framework,
- Asta-Ja Strategic Framework,
- Asta-Ja Management Capacity-building Framework, and
- Management of Asta-Ja System.
Furthermore, the author has published numerous articles applying Asta-Ja Framework in the context of Nepal. Some of them are:
- Restructuring the National Planning Commission Focusing on Asta-Ja and Nepal Vision 2040,
- Asta-Ja for Grassroots-based Economic Development of Nepal,
- Asta-Ja Crusade for a Fast-paced Agro-Jadibuti Industrialization of Nepal,
- Agricultural and Natural Resources Development and Management Strategy in Nepal, and
- Management of Cooperatives Focusing on Asta-Ja and Globalization.
These publications have enormously enriched the Asta-Ja Framework by covering its theoretical, scientific, and operational dimensions and competitive advantages.
Organizational development has become the major priority of Asta-Ja movement since its inception in 2008. Over the past 12 years, Asta-Ja Campaigners have established a couple of nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations namely Asta-Ja Abhiyan Nepal (2008), Asta-Ja Research, and Development Center (2014), Asta-Ja Vyas Bhumi Nepal, and Asta-Ja USA (2018). Asta-Ja Saving and Credit Cooperative Ltd in Kathmandu, Nepal, was established in 2011, which as later changed to Asta-Ja Agriculture Cooperative in 2014.
Asta-Ja International Coordination Council (Asta-Ja ICC) has been operational since 2008. The Asta-Ja ICC currently has 92 members representing several countries across the globe. These various organizations both inside and outside Nepal have been very helpful in launching many activities including relief works, grassroots-based projects, monthly seminar series, policy advocacies, and community awareness activities.
Several Asta-Ja collaborative projects have been completed in the past 12 years. Some of these projects are:
- Climate change adaptation in the mid-hill region of Nepal,
- Relief works in 2015 Earthquake affected areas,
- Food and nutrition of 1000 golden families in Kavre,
- Organic vegetable production in Tanahu,
- Drinking water security in the mid-hill region of Nepal,
- Environmental community awareness monthly seminar series in Kathmandu,
- Chure degradation study,
- Relief works for COVID-19 affected families, and
- Helping the government in running field camps and a hospital following the 2015 Earthquake.
Additional projects to be implemented in the near future include:
- The drinking water project, and
- School children support
Asta-Ja sister organizations have been effectively working on various activities including policy advocacy initiatives, conferences and workshops, field visits, meetings, the supply of fresh vegetables, and periodic publication of newsletters, policy briefs, press releases, and booklets.
As COVID-19 that began late 2019 from Wuhan, China, has reached 210 countries and territories with 7,039,363 cases claiming 403,401 lives globally with 3,193,457 people currently infected of which 3,139,729 people are in mild condition and 53,728 people are in serious or critical condition as of June 7, 2020, the adverse impact of COVID-19 pandemic in public health and economy has become a serious concern worldwide. Total cases in Nepal are 3,448 and 13 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the COVID-19 crisis as pandemic on March 11th, 2020. Since then, many countries have taken very strict actions including closing the borders, banning on international travel, and imposing stay-at-home orders and lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus.
Peoples are stranded in the ocean, foreign countries, in other cities, and in quarantines creating a real disruption in the societies. A massive number of population has lost jobs globally. Social distancing, washing hands, and avoiding non-essential activities even visiting clinics or hospitals have become the norms. Supply chains have been seriously disrupted. People are in panic conditions all over the world.
In Nepal, the free and unrestricted flow of people from India and specifically the surge of Nepalese returnees from India upon its lockdown and the departure of more than half a million people from Kathmandu to other parts of Nepal has created a real sense of COVID-19 terror in the country. Nepal imposed a national lockdown on March 24th, 2020, and now it is extended until June 14, 2020. The national lockdown with a complete stop of the tourism in the country and a massive number of Nepalese returnees from India has put the Nepalese economy at crises. For example, just in Dailekh district alone, out of its total population of about 300,000 people, about 70,000 people work in India. Out of 70,000 people, 41,100 people are expected to return to Nepal. As of June 6, 2020, 11,800 people from India have returned to Dailekh. These returnees have already seriously strained quarantine facilities, health facilities, food supplies, and other support systems.
This is just an example of one of the 77 districts of Nepal. An estimated 3-4 million Nepalese work in India as low wage earners. Reportedly, 7,000,000 Nepalese are working abroad. A returning of 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 Nepalese will create an unprecedented crisis in the country. It is estimated that about 10 million people’s livelihood will be in jeopardy due to these returnees. Therefore, it is critical to develop strategies and implement immediately in tackling these crises considering both immediate needs and broader longer-term perspectives in view of the multi-dimensional nature of the problem. It is important to get to the grassroots communities immediately and develop comprehensive income-generating activities across the nation.
The 2015 Constitution has a federalized the administrative and governance structure of Nepal into seven provinces and 753 local units with devolution of significant authorities to provincial and local governments. The spirit of the 2015 Constitution of Nepal envisions a socialistic/mixed economy under the federalized governance. Therefore, the nation’s heavy reliance on its vast natural resources for accelerated economic growth is obvious. The 2015 Constitution gives autonomy to local and provincial governments for raising and spending revenues, and they are expected to contribute and drive their planning and development processes by themselves.
The federal government is responsible for the planning and development of big projects such as large hydropower, multi-provincial projects, national highways, and railways. In agriculture, local governments will manage local irrigation projects, agricultural roads, extension services, and livestock health; provincial governments will manage province-level agriculture, livestock, and irrigation projects; and the central government will manage the issues of quarantine and large-scale irrigation projects. Close coordination with the frontline agencies and the provincial and local governments is necessary for the development of integrated national plans and their successful implementation.
Considering the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on the Nepalese economy and society, it is important for us to scale up our 12 year-long Asta-Ja movement into a large-scale and widespread Asta-Ja Maha Abhiyan. Asta-Ja Maha Abhiyan is an all-encompassing and unifying movement for sustainable conservation, development, and utilization of Asta-Ja resources for accelerated economic growth and fast-paced socio-economic transformation in Nepal.
This scaling up will help us in reaching out to the local governments nationwide effectively and helping them out in capacity-building for fighting against COVID-19 pandemic and realizing accelerated economic growth and fast-paced socio-economic transformation through sustainable conservation, development, and utilization of Asta-Ja resources. Currently, capacity-building programs in Nepal are largely uncoordinated, fragmented, single disciplinary, and partial. In order to develop community capacity-building as an approach to socio-economic transformation, capacity-building initiatives should be holistic, comprehensive, participatory, and issue-specific.
The Asta-Ja Framework presents an opportunity for community capacity-building by addressing community resource problems comprehensively and holistically. Through Asta-Ja Maha Abhiyan, we will work collaboratively with all 753 local government in the country and contribute to capacity-building at the local, regional and national level to fight against COVID-19 pandemic, to identify a future comprehensive pathway for resilient and sustainable development of post-COVID-19 pandemic Nepal, and for modernization and socio-economic transformation of Nepalese society.
We will work closely with the local governments across the nation in a wide range of activities, which may include, but not limited to, rehabilitation of COVID-19 pandemic returnees, Asta-Ja data collection and assessment, project identification, Asta-Ja Investment Information System design, project planning and implementation, sustainable technologies, and institutional development and trade.
We will collaborate with governmental agencies, academic institutions, community organizations, businesses, international agencies, and other stakeholders in this mission. Asta-Ja Maha Abhiyan is truly a nonprofit, nonpolitical, secular, and nonracial grassroots-based national movement for sustainable conservation, development, and utilization of Asta-Ja resources, accelerated economic growth, and fast-paced socio-economic transformation in Nepal. We hope for suggestions, support, and solidarity from every Nepalese and friend of Nepal in making this historic Asta-Ja Maha Abhiyan a great success.
Jay Asta-Ja Maha Abhiyan!
Written by Durga Dutta Poudel for telegraphnepal.com