Plan to plant

  • Research in climate-resilient crops is necessary in disaster-prone Nepal
Plan to plant

Jun 16, 2015-

This year, the monsoon is set to be a double-edged sword for Nepal. Heavy rainfall is likely to trigger landslides across the mid-hills where mountain slopes have been weakened by the quake and its aftershocks. Last Wednesday, for instance, over 50 people were killed due to a landslip after a heavy rainfall in Taplejung.

In case there is a weak monsoon, as predicted, the overall agricultural output could fall as most farmers are dependent on the rains for irrigation. In the aftermath of the quake, the Central Bureau of Statistics has projected the forestry and agriculture sector to grow at 1.79 percent this year down from 2.17 percent predicted earlier. According to the Ministry of Agriculture Development, paddy production could drop by five percent this year.

The reasons for the slump are not new. Late monsoon compounded with encroachment of agricultural land for industrial and residential purposes, inadequate irrigation and natural disasters as in previous years are to blame. While a fall in output due to natural disasters like drought, floods or earthquakes are beyond human control, the government can address the other reasons for reduced output. Most importantly, it can expand irrigation facilities.

According to the National Sample Census of Agriculture 2011/12, only 53 percent of the total agricultural land in Nepal is irrigated. The most commonly used ways to irrigate land are through rivers, ponds and tubewell followed by irrigation canals and reservoirs. This is despite the fact that expanding and improving irrigation facilities regularly figures in government plans. The policies and programmes of the Government of Nepal for the current fiscal year have three proposals dedicated to irrigation. Acknowledging the need to construct and maintain irrigation infrastructure to provide irrigation facilities to farmers round the year, it proposes to complete the canal systems and head-works of the Sikta Irrigation Project in Banke, Rani-Jamara-Kulariya Irrigation Project in Kailali and Babai Irrigation Project in Bheri. A year later, they are nowhere near completion.

There is a clear need to promote cheaper ways to irrigate farmlands. Huge irrigation projects need to be complimented with investments in shallow and deep tube wells. Construction of ponds and promoting drip, shower and lift irrigation systems can help increase production until farmers have access to year-round water canals.

The Great Quake was a reminder that things cannot continue as they are in seismically active Nepal which is equally prone to landslides and flooding during the monsoon. This holds for agricultural sector as well. For that, there is a need to increase investment in climate-resilient crops. Last year, for example, the National Agricultural Research Council along with the International Rice Research Institute released three new paddy seeds—Sukhha Dhan 4, Sukhha Dhan 5 and Sukhha Dhan 6. These new breed can tolerate drought for up to one and a half months. The Sukhha 6 has the ability to grow back even after two weeks of being submerged in water.

Published: 17-06-2015 08:14

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