Print Edition - 2014-07-29  |  Development

Catching farmers off guard

  • ‘A change in both the onset and withdrawal date suggests a temporal shift in the monsoon patterns over Nepal after 1997’
Catching farmers off guard

Jul 28, 2014-

The monsoon that brings crucial rain for the cereal production is experiencing a shifting weather patterns, exerting more stress on the country’s agriculture sector.  The summer crops such as paddy, maize and millet, which comprise nearly 80 percent of the total national cereal production, are highly dependent on monsoon rain that normally lasts for three months. Paddy alone accounts for more than 50 percent of the national cereal production.

In Nepal, a majority of farmers lack adequate irrigation facilities and are highly dependent on rains, particularly during July and August for plantation of paddy-the main food crop. Similarly, brief rainfall during the monsoon withdrawal time in September is vital for harvesting.

However, the temporal shift in monsoon pattern in recent years with delayed onset and extended withdrawal period followed by extreme rainfall activity has affected the agriculture pattern being practiced by the farmers for decades and ultimately caused loss in the summer crop yield, according to weather experts.

“The normal date of onset and withdrawal of the monsoon over the country is constantly varying over the years, particularly since mid 1990s, which is ultimately affecting the plantation and harvesting of summer crops across the country,” said Saraju Baidya, deputy-director general at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, a government entity responsible for forecast and sharing related data on the monsoon.

An analysis report of 63-year period (from 1951 to 2013) titled ‘Recent Trends in the Onset and Withdrawal of Summer Monsoon over Nepal’ suggests the date of onset and withdrawal of summer monsoon has delayed in the recent years.  The onset and withdrawal date for monsoon in the country which normally falls on June 10 and September 23 respectively are now observed around June 21 and October 3. The study also found that the duration of monsoon has been extended from 105 days to 130 days in recent years.

“A change in both the onset and withdrawal date suggests a temporal shift in the monsoon patterns over Nepal after 1997,” said senior meteorologist at the DHM Suman Kumar Regmi, who co-authored the analysis paper with Dilip Kumar Gautam. The delayed and weak monsoon led the government to predict a low crop yield this year.

Monsoon entered on June 20 this year, a delay of 10 days than the normal onset from the eastern parts and took almost two weeks to gain strength throughout the country. “The western parts of the country recorded monsoon rains delay of 24 days, largely affecting paddy plantation in the districts that are hugely dependent on monsoon for rains,” said Baidya.

The normal onset is crucial for farmers compared to the withdrawal phase as paddy requires abundant water for transplanting, he explained. Delay in the onset of monsoon will have a domino-effect on the transplantation, resulting in a reduced paddy production. For instance, the delayed onset coupled with weak monsoon in 2009 affected the paddy output that year. On the other hand, a timely onset and favourable rainfall distribution led to increased agricultural yields, particularly the paddy crop in 2013.

“The change in climatic pattern during monsoon often brings along extreme events like heavy rainfall or drought conditions. That in turn wreaks havoc on crop plantation, maturation and harvesting,” said Hari Dahal, a former spokesperson for the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD).

Unlike in the past, the monsoon is erratic with some places experiencing extreme rainfall (more than 100 mm a day) in a short period, he added. Instances like heavy rainfall and floods in October, 2008 ruined the rice in maturation and harvesting stage, causing a significant loss in crop production. Dahal added the monsoon pattern is changing over the years, but the farmers who are most affected by this phenomenon are left in the dark due to lack information at the grass-roots level.

Meanwhile, the rainfall data for the last 30 years between 1975 and 2006 from various hydrological and meteorological stations under the DHM shows that while the total annual rainfall has increased, overall consistency of the monsoon has reduced--rainfall is more concentrated and dry periods last longer.

According to Baidya, the coordination between the Agriculture Ministry and the DHM is crucial to develop understanding on the changing climatic patterns and help the farmers adapt to the changes. “The MoAD has a strong network at grass-roots level including the agricultural technicians and staff who are directly in touch with the farmers. This network should be reinforced to flow right and proper information about the weather forecast and help the farmers plant their seeds accordingly,” he said.

Most importantly, the extension of irrigation infrastructure in the Tarai districts should be the top most priority for the government to enhance the agriculture productivity.

Since last year, the government with support from the World Bank is implementing the five-year project titled ‘Promoting Climate Resilient Agriculture Nepal’ under the pilot programme aimed at empowering the farmers with right weather-related information to tackle the changing climatic and weather phenomenon. “We hope to strengthen our information system and capacitate the farmers to deal with adverse impacts related with monsoon,” Baidya concluded.

Published: 29-07-2014 08:58

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