In the hill regions people have cultivated every piece of land, except where the hillsides are too steep or rocky to carve out even the smallest terrace. Much of the land between the Himalaya and the Terai has been worked and sculpted over the centuries to provide space for crops, animals and houses. Extensive systems of trenches and canals provide the irrigation necessary for food production. Houses are near family fields, and the hilly terrain often creates an elevation differential of several hundret metres or more between the highest and lowest homes in a village.
The population of Nepal is growing at a furious rate. In the last 40 years or so, it has increased from 14 million to more than 29 million people. The number of trekkers per year has increased from 60.000 to nearly 100.000.
Pressure from the increasing population is forcing people to bring the most marginal land into cultivation. As a result, forests lying within the inhabited zone, especially on the southern slopes, have been lopped, cut and cleared.
Because of this, the government and several aid projects such as the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) have instituted tree-planting campaigns to protect the forests, promote alternative energy and fuel-efficient technologies to prevent the burning of wood etc.
The Terai is considered the rice bowl of Nepal, although rice is usually grown up to 2000m, or even higher in the west. If possible, wheat is planted in the cleared rice fields and harvested in spring. Corn is planted in spring, especially on the hillsides, while millet is grown above the rice zone. Barley is sown in the higher altitudes, as well as buckwheat with its pink and white flower clusters.
The Sherpas grow potatoes up to 4000m, and have been doing so since the crop was introduced, probably from Darjeeling in the middle of the 19th century.
There are numerous trees planted around villages and fields, all for some kind of purpose, be it shade, fruit, fodder or medicine. Bananas, mangoes, papaya, citrus fruits, peaches and apples have all brought new income to the remote hill areas.
Bamboo grows under a variety of conditions and is found throughout Nepal. Giant bamboo is common in the tropics and dwarf bamboo in the temperatures. This grass species is used for basketry and, where forests are depleted, particularly in the east, for building.
Bovines play an important role in rural and urban Nepal. Cows are sacred and are not slaughtered, nor are they used as beasts of burden - they bear calves and provide milk and, of course, multipurpose dung. The beasts of burden on the lowlands are ususally castrated bulls, or oxen. In the Kathmandu valley, the cows you will see wandering and sleeping in the streets have been let loose by pious Hindus.
Water buffaloes belong to a different genus, but are still lumped with the bovines. These animals lose their body hair as they mature, and must wallow to diddipate heat and for protection from the sun. The males are used as beasts of burden and are butchered. The females produce a creamy milk, some of which is converted into yoghurt.
The long-haired yaks, no longer found in the wilds of Nepal, are also temperamental and are mostly used for stud service. What trekkers generally see are hybrids, which have confusing names. Teh female yak is called a nak. The nak or yak can be crossed with cattle to produce a more docile creature.
Also Donkeys are used, like the Yaks, as pack-animals to transport trade goods or luggage. Yaks are used more in the high altitude regions while the Donkeys are better in the lowlands.
Sheep and goats are used for food and also as pack animals, particularly in the distribution of salt over the trade routes; the sheep also supply a valuable type of wool.