Graduate in agriculture from Rajasthan College of Agriculture, India
Post-Grad in horticulture from Bath University, London
Served as an agricultural expert for Nepal government from 1972-1989 (was Nepal’s first seeds and agricultural equipment expert)
Served as international seed expert for United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization from 1989-1999
Husband of Subhadra Lama
Father to Suraj Rai and Manjil Rai
I didn’t have to struggle much professionally. But my childhood and early adulthood were difficult. I got to go to school only when I was nine. Besides studying, I had to do household chores. My father was a police officer, who had left my family in Khotang when I was three.
Growing up without a father was hard. After I completed my school leaving certificate (SLC) test, I left Khotang to find my estranged father. I traveled to Dharan on foot and got in touch with a retired police officer and he helped me track my father who, I learned, had been working in Janakpur and he was a police inspector by then. He had also been married to two other women.
The meeting was very emotional for me. Even though I had no memory of him, I felt an instant connection and love when I saw him. The year was 1967, and my father brought me to Kathmandu by air and got me admitted to Tri Chandra Campus’ ISc (Intermediate of science) program.
I don’t have fond memories of my student life in Kathmandu. The two women in my father’s life were both cruel to me. They wouldn’t even allow me to eat leftovers.
But I was a headstrong student, good at my studies, and was determined to be an engineer. I studied agriculture out of desperation. I didn’t want to live with my stepmothers. The way they treated me was driving me up the wall, and I wanted to leave. And as luck would have it, I got a scholarship to study agriculture in Rajasthan, India. I completed my BSc from Rajasthan College of Agriculture. Soon after returning to Nepal after my graduation, I joined the government service as the country’s first-ever seed and agricultural equipment expert.
I was posted in Biratnagar as the sales and production in charge of Nepal’s first advanced seed and agricultural products. Only after 1972 did Nepali farmers get improved and advanced wheat and paddy seeds. Part of my job was to work with traders exporting rice to India and Bangladesh, at a time Nepal used to export millions of tons of rice.
Nepal was also doing a great job in jute farming until there was a major crop failure due to pests. In order to limit the loss, I decided to formulate an insecticide. But this effort ended in a tragedy. Nine farmers died in a single day due to its side effects. This was a dark and sobering experience for me. The incident also taught me the importance of practical knowledge. I realized that the Nepali curriculum, which prioritizes theoretical knowledge to this day, would take us nowhere.
After the fatal insecticide incident, I was transferred to Mustang. There, I worked as the chief of the research and production center set up to modernize farming in the district. Research and cultivation of the popular Marpha apple was one of my first projects in Mustang. I also focused on linking agricultural development of the district with tourism. This yielded considerable success. The economic status of many farmers improved after they built hotels for visitors with dining facilities close to their apple orchards.
King Birendra was impressed by my work and he bestowed me with various national awards.
My five-year tenure in Mustang also helped me get into the University of Bath in the UK, where I did my post-grad in horticulture.
After returning from the UK, I worked in various districts of Nepal. Around that time, I was also developing an interest in politics. At one point, I even considered becoming a full-time politician. But the then government didn’t endorse my resignation.
Then, in 1989, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) offered me the post of an international seed expert. I had the privilege of serving in 12 countries in East and West Africa, the Middle East, and Asia during my time with the FAO. I worked with the UN agency for almost a decade.
With all the knowledge and experience I had acquired in my career, I established ‘Subhadra-Madan Foundation’ with my wife and other like-minded individuals in 2010. The foundation’s objective is to develop the country’s agriculture, education, health, and economic sectors in a healthy, sustainable way. As part of our mission, we have established schools in different districts of Nepal, where students are given practical lessons.
We have our own set of curricula up to grade 10, where children are taught 12 subjects ranging from Chinese to humanities, home science to technology to meditation. These subjects are directly related to our development.
Our schools practice three kinds of education at three levels.
The first level provides world environmental education. The biggest problem in the world right now relates to the environment.
Because of our inability to manage waste, including our own excrement and urine, the cyclic system of nature’s elements has been disturbed. Students at our institutions are taught to collect and decompose their bodily waste to be later used as fertilizer. We apply the 5R rule—Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recover and Recycle—to clean the environment.
The second and most important level is national economic education. Here we explain four sectors of Nepal’s economy: agriculture, trade, industry, and service sector. It is important to understand the functioning of our national economy. All our students grow paddy in the school field. They process the paddy grains into rice at the school mill and supply the rice to the school shop. The rice is bought from the shop, taken to the school canteen, cooked and sold as a meal. The same goes for clothes, transport, and other needs. This is what practical education means.
The third level of education teaches our students to lead happy, healthy, and fearless lives. Emphasis is on the development of students’ knowledge, intellect, conscience, skill, and courage. After all, life is all about gaining knowledge.
Wisdom teaches us how to live, conscience helps us lead a balanced life, and skills teach us to fulfill the necessities of life. Life is short and difficult, and the right education teaches us to live happily.
Subhadra-Madan Foundation believes in residential schools, where we nurture the value of community. For this we have adopted the 5F approach: Family-big, Friends-many, Food-healthy, Freedom in learning, and Fraternity-unity.
It is our belief that we can’t learn or practice individually. So we emphasize collective and group efforts. We also believe in continuous learning, which can never happen in conventional school schedules. That’s why we have a compulsory residential school rule.
Healthy living is also strongly emphasized at our schools. We practice seven different things for a healthy living. They are fresh air for the lungs, hot water for the heart and blood, warm clothes to protect the body from cold, warm food as a source of energy for the body, sunlight for warmth and vitamin D, field and forests work as physical exercise, and a warm bed for at least seven hours of good sleep.
Subhadra Lama (Spouse)
Due to his straightforward nature, Madan never lies, which is a rare asset. So ‘honest’ is one word that would describe him the best. He has this ability to cope with personal hurdles and inspire others. His professional reach is a product of his personal honesty.
Surya Bahadur Rai (Colleague)
He has a unique philosophy. The way he has introduced the reuse of human waste at his schools is beyond an ordinary person’s thinking. Despite being in his 70s, he has never lost the passion for his work. He is never tired of learning and finding new things.
Prashant Singh (Friend)
If he were born in Europe or America, he would have been called a radical. In our Nepali dictionary, there are no proper words to describe him. I think he was born ahead of his time. The Nepali society is yet to reach a level whereby it can recognize and appreciate his work.
A shorter version of this profile was published in the print edition of The Annapurna Express on May 5.