FEATURE: Going smart in Nepalese farming: Part Two
Climate change in Nepal poses great dilemmas affecting agriculture that need answers for this small, extremely diverse and landlocked country’s future development. This is the second article on Nepal’s climate-smart agriculture prospects by CDKN’s Miren Gutierrez. Read Part One here.
Nepal is a country with diverse agro-ecological systems, farm conditions and socio-economic dynamics. This creates complexity and a need for “robust strategies to serve local needs”, says Ram Chandra Khanal, CDKN’s country leader.
When it comes to the prospects for climate-smart agriculture in Nepal, “it poses a great dilemma… whether to focus on subsistence agriculture (self-sufficient farming) or on commercial, larger-scale agriculture, where climate-smart strategies can really make a difference in our economy.”
According to the CDKN expert, about 64% of farm households in Nepal are less than one hectare, whereas the remaining farms control about 60% of land. “Various evidence shows that smallholding farmers have weak adaptive capacity to climate change, and that the government support systems are inadequate.”
In Nepal, “only 10% rice is irrigated, and you need monsoon rains to water these crops. The lives of people are also synchronised with these weather patterns. There is a time of the year when transplant must happen, and traditionally you only had a period only about a month for to do so. With the change in delayed monsoon and unavailability of rain forecast systems, there is small window of opportunity to prepare their seedlings and transplant their paddy in time. As a result productivity can suffer,” says Chandra Khanal, who owns a farm and can speak from first-hand experience.
“Many smallholders cannot respond to these changes, they have almost no information, no risk-bearing capacity and no adaptive capacity,” he adds.
Transforming conventional approaches
Agriculture planning in Nepal is still dominated by conventional approaches of an era without palpable climate change impacts, while the methods and tools to assess climate change risk and integrate it in planning are ‘considerably weak’, explains the expert. National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), strategic programmes for climate resilience, climate change policies and other planning processes have also branded the adaptive capacity at national, institutional and local level as ‘weak’.
Chandra Khanal calls for ‘immediate interventions’, ‘a holistic approach’ and a ‘creative engagement with government, stakeholders, market agents and NGOs’.
CDKN is supporting the government – especially the Ministry of Agriculture – by providing decision-making tools for climate-smart agriculture, and “in identifying climate smart or resilient agricultural technologies and practices for both subsistence and commercial agricultural farms in Nepal’s three major agro-ecological zones. We also intend to develop some climate-smart agricultural pathways and implementation plan so that these technologies and practices can be scaled out in future,” he adds.
A matter of food security
Agriculture production is not evenly distributed in the country, and this creates food security concerns for many. Nepal is topographically divided into three regions: the Himalaya to the north, the middle hills and the Terai (low-altitude plain) in the south. The Himalaya and its foothills represent 35% of the total land area. The middle hills cover about 41% of the total land area. The Terai covers 23% of the total land and is home to around half of the population. The elevation of the country ranges from less than 100 metres above sea level in the Terai, to the highest point on earth, the summit of Mt. Everest, at 8,848 metres, all within a distance of about 150km.
“Mountainous Nepal, one of the poorest countries in South Asia, is notoriously food insecure”, says a report published by UNICEF. “Its topography is partly to blame. The mountains isolate many of the poorest people, who struggle to feed themselves and to ensure that they have clean water, adequate sanitation and healthcare.”
The challenges are, thus, both at macro and micro levels, with a great degree of diversity on the ground.
What is CDKN doing about it? We are generating evidence-based knowledge to overcome one of the biggest obstacles in climate-smart planning in Nepal: There is almost no documented evidence of how climate-smart agriculture is working, and what practices are appropriate in what conditions, both socio-economic and bio-physical.
“It is not clear whether, with this changing altitude and climate diversity, the same set of climate-smart agriculture practices work. We have traditional knowledge systems in place, but climate change is a new phenomenon,” says Chandra Kanal. “So we need to understand the dynamics generated by climate change along with other socio-economic drivers, and generate knowledge that can provide a foundation to take appropriate decisions.”
According to the CDKN expert, other facets add to the complexity but should be integrated in policy, including gender-sensitive issues in a sector where women are very much involved; the food systems perspective, which should include technology, but also new ideas and approaches that can be adapted to Nepal; what people are doing right now to cope with climate shocks, including indigenous knowledge; and finally Nepal’s ‘moving’ climate, from lower altitude to higher altitude, and the south-north connections.
“The challenge is that most of these experiences are being implemented in isolation, without making connections to the overall system”, he concludes. “We are trying to integrate everything for better planning in the agriculture sector. We have realised we need to go a long way to address these mega challenges, but working with the government and developing their capacities would help to achieve those targets faster.”