FEATURE: Is becoming innovative and a risk taker just smart or climate smart?
Pashupati Chaudhary from LI-BIRD talks to Ati Bahadur, a farmer in Nepal breaking away from traditional farming practices to adapt to climatic changes and improve the well-being of his family.
A saying goes: “where there is a will, there is a way”. Some farmers have tremendous fervor and a strong will to try new things and find better ways to improve their livelihoods and adapt to ongoing changes. Ati Bahadur Gurung, 60, from Bhache village, Lamjung is one such farmer. He lives with his 59 year-old wife, 25 year-old son, and newly married daughter-in-law on a high hill rising above 1500 m, surrounded by forests and terraced lands. A smart, innovative, bold and risk taking person Ati Bahadur has tried several new things and succeeded on several fronts.
Ati Bahadur introduced broom grass on his barren terrace walls some years ago, which now fulfills fodder need and contributes to family income. In addition, he gives away brooms to his relatives and friends for free. “This year, I sold 17-18 bundles of broom for 40 rupees a bundle and gave away 12-13 bundles as free gifts to relatives and friends”, proudly shares shy and soft-spoken Ati Bahadur. The broom grass is serving as cover crop on the untilled walls and checking soil erosion, runoff, landslides and moisture loss like other Conservation Agriculture practices. Grown around the homestead, the plant has also reduced workload in collecting fodder and grasses from the forest. It is thus a nutrient smart and weather smart crop.
In the shady and damp land, Ati Bahadur tried cardamom brought by his brother from Ilam and succeeded again. Since cardamom is a shade loving plant, planting it in the damp and shady area was a smart decision from him. His family now earns hard cash from the land from which he previously earned hardly anything from maize, millet and lentil cultivation. “I used to get virtually nothing from that land and monkey, birds and porcupines used to trouble me. Once I started growing cardamom, things have changed. I am earning money. I have now expanded my cardamom growing area”. I sold 12 kg [cardamom] for rupees 600/kg four years ago, 34 kg for rupees 850/kg the following year, then 64 kg for rupees 1,000/kg last year!! This year, insect and wild animals destroyed the crop and I was able to sell only 39 kg for rupees 76,000”, he says. He doesn’t think of cutting down uttis (Nepali alder, Alnus nepalensis) trees that provide shade to cardamom, sequester carbon, and protect cardamom from hailstone, while the region receives hailstone at a high frequency. Cardamom doesn’t require frequent labor supply like annual crops. It is thus a high value, weather smart and labor saving crop.
From another small area of land, Ati Bahadur earns rupees 3,000 to 4,000 annually by growing tomatoes in a plastic tunnel. From the same land, he would have earned nearly 10 times less, had he remained with the traditionally grown crops. Plastic tunnel technology is very useful in chilly, frosty mountains where frostbite is very common. Last season, he also grew onion seedlings in two ropanis of land and sold it for rupees 3,000 in less than a month. He has kept four bee hives from which he extracts honey four times a year, each time between 5-10 manas (equivalent to about half a litre), worth rupees 2,500 to 5,000 every time. Bees are also providing pollination services for free to the crops and trees he grows. Ati Bahadur prepares manure on his own, without letting animal urine and dung go wasted. “I fully utilise dung and urine. Nothing is wasted. This saves money otherwise spent for fertiliser”, he claims. To make water use efficient, he uses sprinkler irrigation system and irrigates field when it is absolutely necessary, without wasting water and letting it run haphazardly.
As Ati Bahadur likes trying new things, he is also working with the Climate Smart Project team, which is jointly implemented by LI-BIRD and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) with the support of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), and is also taking part in trials and experimentations of Himali crops run by the Local Crop Project, a joint undertaking of Bioversity International, Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) with support received from the UNEP-Global Environmental Facility (GEF). .
Ati Bahadur is not only increasing productivity of his farms, but also augmenting family income, using water efficiently while dry spells are crippling other farmers, coping with harsh cold climate, protecting soil from physical and chemical loss, and storing carbon. As the climate in his surrounding is gradually changing, Ati Bahadur confesses he will be not just smart but “climate smart” in the distant future if he maintains his current spirit. Ati Bahadur earnestly preaches to others and is becoming successful in scaling out what he believes is working. He can be a role model and a source of inspiration to many farmers across the country; farmers can learn from him about how to make farms integrated, more productive, economically beneficial, carbon smart, water smart, nutrient smart, and adaptive to change, or “climate smart”.
 1 GBP is approximately 150 Nepalese Rupees