Climate change threatens food safety, experts warn

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Oct 25, 2016-Agro scientists have warned that Nepal’s food safety will be under threat due to the impact of climate change which directly affects farm profit margins, and urged all stakeholders to strengthen efforts to improve technology-intensive agricultural practices.

Nepal has the potential to become self-sufficient in food and even export it, but the sector is hampered by lack of technology, quality inputs and infrastructure, they said. 

“Rice consumption in Nepal has doubled to 3.7 million tonnes in the last two decades, and it is growing,” said Abdelbagi M Ismail, a visiting principal scientist from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Baños, the Philippines.

He was speaking at the second review workshop of the USAID-funded project entitled Accelerating the Adoption of Stress-Tolerant Rice Varieties by Smallholder Farmers in Nepal and Cambodia (ASTV) on Monday. 

The US government has implemented the Feed the Future Initiative, a project aimed at addressing global hunger and food insecurity, in 22 districts in the Eastern, Western, Mid-Western and Far-Western regions. IRRI is technically supporting the project. 

Ismail said that Nepal was one of the highest rice consuming countries in the world. The per capita per year rice consumption in Nepal is 130 kg, which is extremely high. Rice is the most important source of calories, accounting for 31 percent of the total calories intake in Nepal, he said.  

However, Nepal’s production falls short of demand. As a result, it currently imports 15-20 percent of the rice it consumes. 

According to the Customs Department, Nepal’s cereal import bill jumped to a staggering Rs38.72 billion in the last fiscal year after unfavourable weather left it with the worst cereal harvest. Of the total imports, rice and paddy amounted to 489,401 tonnes worth Rs21.42 billion. 

The Agricultural Ministry’s annual crop production report shows that the country produced 652,000 tonnes less food grain in the last fiscal year as severe drought affected both summer and winter harvests. The drop in output was reflected on imports. 

“Having fertile land, beautiful sunshine and water potential, there is no need for Nepal to invest millions of dollars to import food,” Ismail said. He added that the country could double output by adopting new technologies like new improved varieties of seeds and farm mechanization and ensuring proper market access. 

The seed replacement rate is one of the problems. The rate should be 20 percent on average, but in Nepal it is 12 percent, he said. “This poor rate has forced farmers to lose 15-20 percent of their crops.” 

He urged the government to focus on improved seed varieties and distribute them to farmers. “Women are dominant in Nepal’s agricultural sector. They need to be provided appropriate technologies for product development and delivery strategy,” he said. 

Uma Shankar Singh, senior scientist and IRRI Representative for Nepal and India, said that convincing farmers to adopt new varieties was challenging as they don’t want to switch to new varieties leaving their traditional ones. In this context, the governments and media intervention is crucial in creating awareness among farmers, he said. 

For example, the ASTV conducted a head-to-head trail of new paddy varieties like DRR 44, DRR 42, Ciherang Sub-1 and Sawa Mahsuli Sub-1, among others. Half of the farmers’ fields were transplanted with improved varieties and half of them with their traditional varieties. 

“The objective was to see which one is better,” said Singh. “The result showed that new seeds are not only good in climatic stress conditions but equally best when the situation is normal.” 

The survey conducted by the project in the 22 districts shows that 358 village development committees (VDCs) are prone to drought and 177 VDCs are prone to flood. The project covered 68,000 hectares as of last year and expects to reach 150,000 hectares by this year, he said.     

“Climate change is leading to an increase in temperatures and more frequent and severe periods of drought, which have a negative impact on crop productivity,” said Uday Chandra Thakur, secretary of the Ministry of Agricultural Development. 

“Moreover, the overuse of chemical fertilizers has been degrading Nepal’s soil condition.” As the effects of climate change will threaten the poor, the government is committed to adopting stress-tolerant paddy varieties to increase productivity, he said.

Published: 25-10-2016 07:58

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