As unprecedented variation in climatic pattern in recent decades has pushed farming community into unchartered territory farmers in most part of Nepal fail to grasp the cause of that change and are left baffled as to how to respond. Agriculture being mostly rain-fed in Nepalese context is sensitive to even a slightest change in the weather pattern. While the effects on agriculture are not so dramatic at this stage, the trend we are observing in recent years suggests that climate change could ravage food sector adding to the plight of already food deficit country.
Abnormal climatic patterns like shift in monsoon, decreasing monsoon duration, uneven distribution of rainfall, drying up of rivers, extreme weather events like drought and floods, etc., brought about by human-induced climate change has become the new normal. Moreover, shifting of climatic zones in the country, extinction of indigenous basmati rice varieties, some local wheat, maize and other agricultural crops and increased incidence of disease and pest outbreak has been likened to the effect of climate change.
Unfortunately, most of the small holder resource poor farmers in rural part of Nepal are bearing the brunt of climate change. Lack of proper irrigation facilities and appropriate technologies, paucity of quality inputs, and lack of timely availability of inputs among other problems have further compounded the impacts of climate change in these regions.
A group of Nepalese farmers return home carrying their belongings after planting rice in a field at the beginning of the monsoon season in Jitpur village, on the outskirts of capital Kathmandu.
Photo: Narendra Shrestha/EPA
“Obviously climate change has caused abnormalities in weather pattern in recent years. The seasonal pattern that we used to base our crop production on has altered”, says Mohan Regmi, a farmer based on rural village of Syangja. “The monsoon has become unpredictable, it rains during unusual time of year and uneven distribution of rainfall has caused heavy crop failure”.
While farming has evolved through generations and farmers have contrived to adjust to minor external stimuli, farming in such rapidly changing circumstances has become a big gamble for farmers like Mohan.
“We try to get along with the shifting weather pattern but with each season it grows more unpredictable. We have tried hybrid seeds but the pests appear out of nowhere and damage our crops. Hailstones and heavy rain during flowering season cause heavy loss making farming very difficult” he added.
A farmer harvests rice on a field in Lalitpur, Nepal October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
The degree of change we are observing now merits prompt action from policymakers and stakeholders. The farmers need should be assessed according to their farming conditions and appropriate tools should be dissipated to help them adapt to the effects of climate change.
One way to minimize the impact of climate change in the vulnerable regions is to avail farmers disease resistant and improved seeds. In addition to increasing productivity in general, several new varieties offer farmers greater flexibility in adapting to climate change, including traits that confer tolerance to drought, flood and heat, salinity and resistance to diseases and pests. Resource poor farmers will benefit from new varieties and traits that are less input intensive such as fertilizers and pesticides and the associated equipment.
At the same time, controlling water supplies and improving irrigation access and efficiency will become increasingly important to increase the productivity. Sustainable soil and water management practices and the introduction of plastic ponds to store rainwater are also key to build more climate resilient agriculture for resource poor farmers.
Irrigation in the hills of Nepal is rain fed and depends on water from rivers, rivulets and springs. The uncertainty of water combined with climate change and deeply entrenched social structures of class, caste and gender has deep implications on the agrarian stress and outmigration to search for better opportunities. (Photo by Nitasha Nair/IWMI)
Adaptive technologies, mainly regarding varietal and farming practice technologies, and technologies to harvest and use rain water should also be identified and transferred to rural farmers. Similarly, appropriate production techniques such as conservation or reduced tillage agriculture are significant as production technologies when it comes to climate change adaptation and mitigation.
However risks climate change pose to these vulnerable communities, concerted efforts from policy as well as research level to bring these tools to rural farms combined with farmer’s indigenous knowledge could largely see off considerable impact of climate change.