“Desperate times calls for desperate measures.” This is what I have seen and experienced and this has also motivated me to do this project.
I am Deepika Adhikari. I am 27 years old and hold a Master’s degree in Horticulture. I have five years of experience working with the farmers of the hills as well as the Terai region of Nepal. I have technically supported the implementation of riverbed farming for the highly flood affected, landless and land poor farmers of three western Terai districts of Nepal.
The latter project dealt with utilization of unused riverbeds and degraded lands to grow fruits and vegetables, thereby improving the income and food security of these farmers. I realized that land degradation is often a fundamental aspect of rural poverty, severely impacting the ability of subsistence farmers to grow food, irrigate their crops and get decent yields.
Estimated annual soil erosion in Nepal is 9.699 million hectares (MoEST, 2006). This high level of erosion is leading to reduced soil fertility and enormous tracts degraded land. Not only does it undermine the food security of poor farmers but also distorts the entire livelihood pattern of a community.
Handikhola Village Development Committee, Ward no – 4 of Makwanpur district, located in the foothills of the Chure (Siwalik) range in Nepal is one such area that is unsuitable for conventional cultivation. It faces regular land degradation due to riverbank cutting, soil erosion and deforestation which has damaged the agricultural land and reduced soil fertility.
The ‘Tamangs,’ a marginalized ethnic community, are the main inhabitants of this village. Due to limited cultivable land, the community is involved in agriculture for six months only. For the rest of the year they are involved in cheap labour to maintain their livelihood.
Unrestrained use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers by the farmers in order to get high production from the limited land that they have has further added to soil infertility. Food insecurity looms in the community as weather variances and disasters swallow up cultivable land. But those who suffer the most are the women.
The women are responsible for ensuring the food security of their families and the lack of cultivable land negatively impacts food security by increasing food shortage, decreasing purchasing power, increasing migration of male members and increasing disease incidence due to intake of low quality food.
My project is aimed at supporting women farmers in developing five model demonstration plots that will showcase improved, climate-smart income generation and riverbank protection technology.
Two rivulets, namely the Thado Khola and Bhundrung Khola originating in Chure (Siwaliks), drain the micro-watershed of Handikhola.
The watershed is seasonal in nature and the majority of water flow exists only during the monsoon (mid-June to October). The monsoon rain as well as the flowing rivulets percolate into the Bhabar, which is then forced to the surface through capillary action when it reaches the finer alluvial layers. It is then converted into a zone of springs and marshes along the river corridor of the village.
These attributes make the area very suitable for aquaculture. Ponds with large dykes will be constructed along the river corridor that will allow cultivation of fish like Grass Carp and Tilapia. The dykes can also be used to grow fruits and vegetables.
Multi-purpose grasses like Napier, broomgrass and bamboo will be planted in the adjacent degraded land. This will serve as feed for the fish and will also control soil erosion.
Vegetable crops like cucumber, string beans, onions, bitter gourd, bottle gourd and pumpkin, along with fruits like banana, watermelon, muskmelon, pineapple and papaya, can be planted along the dykes. This will improve the adaptive capacity of the farmers to climate change by improving household food security, generating income and also preventing the erosion of riverbanks and the loss of agricultural land.
Two women’s groups, ‘Srijanshil’ and ‘Ujjwal,’ consisting of 50 members each, have already been formed. The concept has been delivered to these women farmers and an initial pilot has been conducted with the help of an NGO called Institute of Sustainable Agriculture Nepal (INSAN).
Some of the major costs for undertaking this project have already been carried out, such as construction of ponds and providing technical training on aquaculture and riverbed farming to the farmers. Farmers have constructed ponds in their private degraded lands. On the dykes, they grew long bean, black bean, soy bean and banana. This project has helped women farmers to turn into entrepreneurs.
However, now there is no more help even though the farmers really love the concept. Developing at least five of them into model demonstration plots will involve further improvements like adding more suitable horticultural crops and other aquatic plants in the pond, components like composting, biopesticide preparation and market linkage to further improve women’s access to agriculture technology.
The latter will also facilitate the project’s replication in the community and the adjacent villages. These demonstration plots will serve as a training ground for all the farmers in the region.
Based on interactions and discussion with the community, I intend to select the five best women agriprenuers to cooperate in building a demonstration plot. They will be given training on aquaculture and vegetable farming at regular intervals and will also be encouraged to grow new species of vegetables and fruits on the dykes. Training on composting technology and biopesticide preparation will also be provided.
These women agriprenuers will then become technical resource persons at the community level and will be linked with the local government’s Agriculture, Forest and Environment Committee and Agriculture Service Centres to achieve self-replication of the project at the local level.
Stakeholder workshops and exposure visits will be organized for the involved stakeholders, local government (DDC, municipality and VDC), District Agriculture Development Office, District Soil Conservation Office and District Forest Office, which can ensure the integration of this technology into their annual/periodic plans.
Training will be provided on post-harvest handling and market linkages, and grants will be provided to carry out local market assessment and to prepare business plans.
For me, this project will be an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the project in reaching women to become agriprenuers and to be economically and socially empowered. At the same time I will be able to provide my technical know-how on riverbed farming technology to the farmers.
This grant of $5000 will be used for capacity building ($2000), identifying and providing improved vegetable and fruit seeds that can be grown on degraded land and other inputs ($1000), a stakeholder workshop and exposure visit ($800), publication ($800) and strengthening market linkages through a local market assessment and business plan ($400).
Blogpost and picture submitted by Deepika Adhikari (Nepal) – adhikari.468[at]gmail.com
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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