Replicating Gandaki's success will require increased focus from governmental bodies, organisations and the scientific community to identify and overcome the unique challenges each province will face based on their geographical needs and resource limitations. It is also imperative to not only look forward to the future but also the past
Climate change is a systemic crisis that is both the accelerator and the result of the plethora of problems we are facing today.
The recurrently changing environmental circumstances, mainly seen in the form of global warming and climate variability, are the major concerns now and will be having a more deleterious effect over the future of agriculture.
Nepali farmers have been especially affected by the effects of climate change. Nepal and other regions globally have been experiencing an increase in extreme weather events in conjunction with shorter yet heavier monsoons, consequently also leading to longer dry periods. Nepal, situated in the lap of the Himalaya, has more reasons to worry as the rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers could considerably change the impact of temperature pattern, which is unavoidable for growing several crops.
Experts claim that this new pattern of rapid oscillation between floods and droughts is made even harder to adapt to because our known seasonal cycle is now delayed by a month.
These factors and the speed that they have occurred make it increasingly difficult for farmers to effectively identify areas of change and adaptation in their existing agricultural practices. Many farmers face seemingly insurmountable financial difficulties, some have lost their livelihoods entirely while others grapple with lack of water or climate resilient crops.
Make no mistake, the financial strain that farmers are facing are related to the effects of climate change.
To combat the increased difficulties they're facing, they often invest a significant portion of their income into machinery, new seeds, water and fertiliser, but see little to none return on monetary or time investment.
This lack of results affects not only their mental and physical health, but that of their families as well.
Nepali farmers and their families have begun to migrate in search of new work opportunities, or sometimes continue in agriculture but move to new areas in search of water to irrigate their crops. Still, a change of profession doesn't always guarantee economic upliftment – farmers at times have no option but to change to a profession that is highly labour intensive, with low pay and harrowing work conditions.
Still, all hope is not lost.
Gandaki Province is quickly shaping up to be a trailblazer in the shift to 'climate-smart villages' and sustainable agriculture.
The grassroots movement and its work are being spearheaded by the NGO, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (Li-Bird), working to build communities with both the knowledge and tools for climate-resilient adaptation.
In this area affected by droughts and floods with rapidly threatened water security, they have built large water recharge ponds to appropriately use and recycle water, along with rainwater harvesting tanks.
Farmers are also equipped with climate-resilient seeds that can better weather the unpredictable changes.
Community-level, solar-powered irrigation systems have been developed in conjunction with efforts to build upon the knowledge bank of farmers about climate-smart agriculture.
Additionally, these projects have incorporated Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) principles into their respective domains.
Marginalised communities are prioritised in Li-Bird's efforts in equipping people with the necessary tools against climate change. The organisation also focuses on the recruitment of women for local leadership roles.
These individual and community level efforts have been supplemented with collaborations with the Ministry of Forestry and Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development to assemble a guideline for local governments to follow as an effort to replicate Gandaki's success in other provinces. Efforts to scale up in these projects are happening on a provincial and local level, but replicating Gandaki's level of success may prove to be difficult in other provinces.
There are a few key factors that have enabled the level and scale seen in Gandaki. In an interview with the authority of Gandaki's Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment, he mentioned how the community itself was highly proactive in making environmental sustainability a priority. Ecotourism is a significant revenue generator for the area, with several stakeholders in the tourism industry choosing to make environmental sustainability a fundamental aspect of their business. The province also enjoys a high level of resources – in terms of financial stability and income, highly marketed natural attractions and resources, and a high level of interest from the professional and scientific community.
The mostly hilly topography of the area and possible climate adaptation methods have been extensively studied, especially compared to the scientific focus on the Tarai region.
Replicating Gandaki's success will require increased focus from governmental bodies, organisations and the scientific community to identify and overcome the unique challenges each province will face based on their geographical needs and resource limitations. Resources means mainly in terms of financial, physical, and human resources based on their knowledge and skill. It is also imperative to not only look forward to the future but also the past. Past and present projects need to be continually revisited and holistically evaluated – what is working, what isn't and why.
Modifications in the presently used cultivation practices and the search for new plant species and seeds that can be more tolerant to different abiotic and biotic environmental efforts could help in mitigating the adverse impact of climate change.
Lastly, these required changes cannot occur without appropriate policies at the federal and local level to include those otherwise disinterested stakeholders and increase access and funds for those disproportionately affected, such as the farmers.
A version of this article appears in the print on June 18, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.