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FEATURE: Going smart in Nepalese farming: Part One

Generating knowledge that can be integrated in ‘climate-smart’ policy and practice could be one of the keys to Nepal’s future development. Miren Gutierrez of CDKN reports.  This is Part One of a two-part series, read Part Two here.

Small, extremely diverse and landlocked, Nepal confronts special development challenges in the face of climate change. Its orography determines that only less than 20% of its land is cultivable, yet about 39% of its GDP and 75% of its exports depend on agriculture, which is also the main source of food, income and employment for the great majority according to a reports published by Cornell and USAid.

“Nepal’s geography is incredibly diverse and complex. Within a short distance, you can see a lot of variety… Climatic conditions range from sub-tropical to Arctic,” says Ram Chandra Khanal, CDKN’s country leader, in a telephone interview. The Climate and Development Knowledge Network supports decision-makers in designing and delivering climate compatible development.

Recently, there has been new evidence of increasing impacts of climate change in the agriculture sector, which, by contagion, can affect the livelihoods of millions. On the other hand, Nepalese farmers have limited access to new technologies and market opportunities.

Climate shocks can derail economic projections easily.  For example, in 2009 growth was, at 4.7%, ‘a bit slower than in the previous year as a result of prolonged winter droughts and delayed monsoons’, says a report published by USAid.  The same report notes that Nepal’s economic performance is ‘heavily dependent on subsistence rain-fed agriculture’, so output is ‘perennially susceptible to exogenous climate shocks —drought, floods, and irregular rainfall.’ USAid ends up saying that this dependence makes growth performance ‘highly erratic’.

Last month, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) projected Nepal’s economy to grow between 4-5% this fiscal year, a lower than first expected and last year, based on the assumptions of two scenarios of agricultural, industrial and service sector growth. According to the ADB ’s Macro-Economic Update on Nepal the country’s economy will grow by 4% if farm production diminishes abruptly and 5% under another scenario where agricultural output deteriorates marginally. (The scenarios take into account different performances in the industrial and service sectors too).

“Delayed and abnormal monsoon rains affected last crops like paddy (semiaquatic rice) and maize leading their output to decline by 5.1% and 6% respectively. The government has projected that winter crops like wheat will be good, but due to a decline in the summer output which contributes heavily to the total agricultural output, the farm sector is expected to rise by just 1.8%,” says a report published by

Rice is not only a staple food here, it is also Nepal’s main crop, and both the economy and the food security depend on rice production, according to another report issued by Hydro Nepal.

“The recent Economic Impact Assessment of climate change study carried out with the support from CDKN also showed that the direct losses of climate change on agriculture are equivalent to around 0.8%/year of current GDP,” reveals Mr Khanal.

That is why climate-smart agriculture is at the centre of Nepal’s strategy to develop.

Climate-smart agriculture is defined as agriculture that integrates the three dimension of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) by incorporating adaptation and mitigation elements and addressing food security and climate issues at the same time. It promotes production systems that sustainably increase productivity and resilience (adaptation), while reducing Green House Gas emissions (mitigation), and enhancing food security and development.

Climate-smart agriculture is so fashionable nowadays that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation has set up a dedicated web site, not surprisingly called ‘Climate-smart agriculture’. According to FAO, global food production will have to increase by at least 70% to satisfy the demand of a growing population by 2050. But climate change will to reduce food productivity, or worsen its stability in some areas that already have high levels of food insecurity.

Although there is consensus on the need for climate-smart strategies, “there are still knowledge and gaps at the methodological, policy and financial levels”, says FAO. “These gaps hinder the ability of actors of development (farm smallholders, policy makers and development agencies) to successfully implement climate smart actions.”

That is where projects like CDKN’s come into play.

Explore CDKN’s Nepal country programme on

Watch this space for the second part of this two-part series on climate-smart agriculture in Nepal by Miren Gutierrez.

Image: Nepali farmer, courtesy CCAFS.

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