Steep drop in crop yield due to lack of rainfall

KATHMANDU: Winter drought has led to a severe drop in crop production in Nepal, placing more than two million people at high risk of food insecurity, according to a joint assessment released this week by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MoAC), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The 2008-2009 winter drought — one of the worst in the country’s history — has destroyed crops across the country, with wheat and barley production reduced by 14 and 17 per cent respectively.

Crop yields in districts of mid-Nepal and far-western Nepal that received less than 50 per cent of the average rainfall during the period from November 2008 to February 2009 — have dropped by more than half.

The report — which was produced by MOAC, WFP and the FAO — estimated that 40 of the 75 districts are food deficit because of the drought and also expressed serious concern about the individual nutrition status across Nepal. Half the children aged under five in these districts are stunted while 39 percent are underweight and 13 per cent severely malnourished.

In response to the crisis, WFP plans to increase the number of people it is assisting in the most food insecure areas of Nepal from 1.5 million to 2.2 million in the coming weeks.

WFP will provide food assistance for an additional 7,00,000 persons while helping drought-affected communities build up assets through a variety of Food for Work and Food for Training projects.

At the same time, FAO plans to work with local communities to expand irrigation networks while distributing seeds for the next harvest.

“We are extremely concerned about the present food supply situation,” said Bui Thi Lan, FAO Country Representative. “We urge more efforts to provide immediate support for the next season crop to farmers in Far and Mid-Western regions where 75 per cent of the cultivated land is un-irrigated,” Lan continued, adding that timely support in terms of agricultural inputs, especially seeds, fertilizers and repair of small irrigation schemes would help needy farmers.

“We are already noticing that people have started selling their assets, migrating for work and in so-me cases skipping meals,” said Ric-hard Ragan, WFP representative.

“This is very worrying. We are also concerned about the impact that road blockades and increased food and fuel prices are having on mountain and hill markets. The supply of food stocks in local markets is insufficient and in some cases depleted,” he added.