Preparing For the Worst

Nepal’s shifting rains and changing crops – SciDev.Net (with Music)


Nepalese farmers relinquish rice as monsoon shifts
Farmers in Nepal, particularly subsistence farmers, are abandoning the cultivation of rice, the country’s staple crop, as monsoon patterns shift and rainfall becomes more erratic.
One such farmer is Bidur Basnet.

For most of his adult life, Bidur Basnet has lived in Panityanki, a town in the picturesque mountain district of Kavre Palanchowk – , some 35 kilometres from Kathmandu. Like many of his neighbours, Bidur has sown paddy rice each monsoon season on his five hectare plot. But that is now changing.
Audio Interview (1)
Bidur Basnet, Farmer
Panityanki village, Kavrepalanchowk district

“Now, the weather has become fickle and unpredictable. The farmer is not sure about it anymore. How can we prepare our paddy fields when we do not know which month in any year the monsoon rains will soak our fields? The monsoon rains that used to come in April have now shifted as late as mid-June. And these rains are sometimes scant and sometimes plentiful. Farmers are unable to grow enough rice as there is not enough water during the paddy cultivation season.”
Now, like other farmers in the area Bidur grows vegetable crops on half of his land, leaving the other half uncultivated because of lack of water. Others are insuring their crops to cope with climatic variability.
Audio Interview (2)
Bidur Basnet, Farmer
Panityanki village, Kavrepalanchowk district

“Growing paddy rice has become very difficult, risky and unviable as the monsoon is not bringing adequate rains and every year it is becoming delayed. However, farmers have switched over to vegetable crops, which can be watered by hand if need be or planted at the time rain finally falls.”
Rainfall variability scholar at the Kathmandu University, Mohan Bahadur Chand, says that studies about monsoon patterns in Nepal have found shifts in the times rainfall.
Audio Interview (3)
Mohan Bahadur Chand
Glaciologist, Rainfall variability scholar,
Kathmandu University
“Studies on rainfall variability show that the rainfall pattern in Nepal is changing and is not static and uniform across the whole country. In eastern Nepal the monsoon rains are increasing while in western parts they are decreasing. What we’ve also noticed is that the number of rainy days in the country are falling by one to three each year.”
Gholam Rasul, senior food security and livelihood expert at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal, says that this shift from rice to vegetable cultivation has implications for food security.
Audio Interview (4)
Gholam Rasul,
senior food security & livelihood expert, ICIMOD
“Our preliminary studies show that farmers are moving from rice to vegetables and other cash crops due to water stress and other climatic factors. When water stress becomes more serious, they shift to maize and potato crops that require less water compared to their staple crops. But the question is what are the implications of such a shift on food security. The crop shift would make farmers more vulnerable to mal-nutrition and food insecurity. However, farmers need crop insurance facility, other institutional and financial services. Such as, farm credit, good extension services and early warning system to help them cope with the climatic stress.”
Meanwhile, Nepali farmers are getting their crops insured to cope with their financial losses when crops fail because of weather and climate disasters.

Sarswati Bhetwal, a potato farmer in the mountain village of Lamdihe, some 30 km southeast of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, considers herself lucky having survived the loss of her potato crop to frost damage thanks to crop insurance.

Audio Interview (5)
Sarswati Bhetwal,
Potato Farmer
Lamdihe village, Dhulikhel town

“It was biting cold in January this year and I could see a pall of frost descending on my potato crop, turning the leaves brownish and then black. Most of my potato crop was damaged. Had my crop not been insured, I would have suffered financial losses, possibly plunged into debt and been unable to prepare for the next crop.”
Bhetwal says that after assessing crop damage, the insurance company paid out 80 percent of her financial losses, or 12,000 rupees, equal to 141 U.S. dollars.

Bhetwal said she has seen an increase in interest in crop insurance. Many farmers have approached her for guidance.
Environmental scientist at the Kathmandu University Dahal says that crop insurance programmes can be beneficial in many ways. By enabling farm production to start again after losses, it helps avoid disruption to local food supplies and can ease high prices and hunger that follow such events, he said.
Dahal said the government should launch large-scale crop and disaster insurance programmes to make agriculture climate-resilient, and farmers’ livelihoods more secure.
Saleem Shaikh
For Scidev Dot Net
From Kathmandu, Nepal

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