Scaling up climate: Smart agriculture

Agriculture in Nepal must undergo a significant transformation in order to respond to climate change and achieve food security. Transforming smallholder systems is not only important for food security but also for poverty reduction

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the global hunger index of Nepal in the year 2015 was 22.2 indicating a serious problem of food security. Though agriculture contributes more than 32 per cent to the national GDP, the sector is affected by labour shortage, technical as well technological barriers, soil degradation and climatic abnormalities.

Agriculture contributes to about 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the primary GHGs that make about 65 per cent of agricultural emissions globally. In addition, the sector is a major driver of deforestation and land use-change, which contributes for an additional 17 per cent of total GHG emissions.

Reports claim that climate change is altering the incidence, intensity and distribution of rainfall.

Majority of the farmers in the country have less knowledge on the suitability of different production methods under the climate change scenarios across a wide array of ecological as well as socio-economic contexts. Hence, the production of major food crops is likely to reduce in the days to come.

Described by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2010, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is taken as an integrative approach to address the challenges of food security and climate change. According to the original definition, CSA sustainably increases crop productivity, builds resilience through climate change adaptation, and reduces GHG emissions.

In an agrarian country Nepal, production, processing and marketing of agricultural products play a key role in food security and economic growth. Agricultural production systems need to tailor in the direction of higher productivity and production stability in the face of climate risk. This is possible when production systems are more resilient, robust, and highly efficient in utilizing locally available resources and inputs.

Various studies suggest that improving farmers’ standard of living is the most effective way to adapt to climate-related threats and shocks. For example, a study conducted among food insecure and food secure farmers in Kenya showed that poorer farmers were not investing in improved farm management practices, because they were entirely focused on activities that contribute to their household food supply. Food secure farmers, however, discussed goals related to children’s education, purchasing lands, and other long-term investments.

CSA seeks to increase crop and livestock productivity in way that is environmentally friendly, economically viable and socially just. Further, it strengthens the farmers’ capacity to adopt farming practices in times of changing climate. It includes agronomic practices such as minimum tillage (no-till), mulching, intercropping, crop rotation, integrated crop-livestock management, agro-forestry and rainwater harvesting. Innovative practices such as weather forecasting and risk management through contract farming or crop and livestock insurance are the decisive parts of CSA.

Growing improved crop cultivars coupled with good agronomic practices help to resist climatic abnormalities such as drought and temperature extremes, and pests and diseases. It also regulates the plant’s response to water and fertilizer.

Appropriate harvesting methods and post-harvest handling produce reduce losses and preserve the nutritional value of the product. It also ensures better use of by-products, either as feed for livestock or to improve soil fertility. Food processing can be a source of employment at the local level, especially for women, and allows surplus to be stored for the needy period.

Improving ecosystem management practices such as pest and disease management, regulation of microclimate, waste management, nutrient recycling and biodiversity conservation provide a number of ecosystem services that helps to make the farming system more resilient, productive, and sustainable. These practices have proven evidences of reduced GHG emissions. Further, land improvement, rainwater harvesting and efficient use of water resources address increasing irregularity of rainfall patterns.

Agriculture in Nepal must undergo a significant transformation in order to respond to climate change and achieve food security. As suggested by the World Bank, transforming smallholder systems is not only important for food security but also for poverty reduction, as well as for aggregate growth and structural change.

The transformation process requires institutional and policy support. A conducive policy environment across agricultural, environmental, and economic frontiers and ground- breaking institutional arrangements to assure their implementation are imperative.

The underlying causes of food insecurity in the country are complex and so are the solutions. Therefore, management and governance practices based on systems approach that involves multisectoral linkage, coordination, and cooperation are significant, and that is also true for the sustainable intervention of CSA.

Thapa is a PhD candidate in Systems Agriculture in Texas