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Youth in agroecology: a new generation leverages climate resilience in agriculture

Farming requires perseverance and hard work at the best of times. Now with the effects of climate change firmly embedded in many places across the HKH region, farming communities need to become resilient to these impacts.
Published: 07 Feb, 2024
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⏲ 6 minutes Read

Farming requires perseverance and hard work at the best of times. Now with the effects of climate change firmly embedded in many places across the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, farming communities need to become resilient to these impacts, and fast. From changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, variability in water availability, changes in the timing of sowing and harvesting, increased incidence of pest attacks, occurrence of invasive species and weeds, and more frequent and severe occurrence of hazards, the agricultural challenges stemming from climate change are significant. In October 2023, ICIMOD, as implementation partner of the Green Resilient Agricultural Productive Ecosystem (GRAPE) project, ran a four-day learning workshop in Surkhet, Dailekh, and Karnali districts in western Nepal. This workshop brought together young participants from the HKH region, with the aim of addressing such challenges.

Research plays a pivotal role in the advancement and continual integration of innovative practices in climate-resilient agriculture (CRA), which is based on simple, affordable, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and aims to increase people’s capacity to adapt climate change. NbS are actions which encourage the protection, sustainable management, and restoration of natural or modified ecosystems to address societal challenges while simultaneously supporting human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits. It is crucial to engage with the next generation of agriculture professionals, and educate them about advocating for CRA to foster resilient and sustainable food systems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya, as this group will assume a pioneering role in agricultural research in the years to come.

2 Vermi Compost santosh
Vermi compost

The workshop encompassed a blend of classroom sessions, field visits, and direct interactions with the local farmers in western Nepal. The objective of this comprehensive approach was for the participants to gain knowledge, skills, and motivation for the adoption of sustainable and climate-resilient farming practices, with the ultimate aim of contributing to the agricultural sector’s resilience in the face of climate challenges.

Highlights from the workshop included a presentation by Dhan Bahadur Kathayat, Agriculture Extension Officer from Nepal’s Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture, and Cooperatives (MoLMAC), who discussed their role in steering Karnali towards becoming an organic province, a transformation guided by the Karnali Province Organic Agriculture Act (2076 B.S.). In Karnali province, a significant proportion of farmers are smallholders facing challenges such as fragmented land and limited risk-bearing capacity, which leads them to rely heavily on subsistence farming. Consequently, many resort to seasonal migration for additional income. However, transitioning to organic agriculture presents a promising solution, as organic farming includes using natural fertilisers and pesticides instead of more costly and hazardous chemical-based ones. By optimising their land and reducing financial risks with lower input costs, farmers can break free from subsistence farming and access premium markets, potentially reducing the need for seasonal migration while enhancing long-term profitability and sustainability.

6 participants interact with Local resourse person Sunayana
Participants interact with local resource person

Abid Hussain, Senior Economist and Food Systems Specialist at ICIMOD, introduced the concept of agroecology, a sustainable farming approach which applies ecological principles to agriculture. The session also explored the idea of social-ecological resilience and its vital role in improving climate resilience in agriculture. This refers to the ability of a socio-ecological system and its components to anticipate, lessen, adapt to, or recover from disturbances quickly and efficiently.

In classroom sessions, participants learned about approaches to enhance agricultural entrepreneurship and digital tools like agro-advisories, weather forecasting systems, and market information services. These tools equip farmers and entrepreneurs with the necessary information to manage their farms efficiently and make well-informed decisions. The direct interactions with local farmers, expert presentations, and observations at the Community Learning Centre provided in-depth experiences and insights into CRA and sustainability. Among the participants that shared their perspectives, Ugyen Tshomo, Founder and Owner of Nim Gangsha solar, a company manufacturing solar PV cells in Bhutan, said, “It was eye-opening to witness climate-resilient farming practices adopted by rural farmers in Karnali Province”. The field visits to Birendranagar and Bheriganga Municipalities in Surkhet and Dullu and Bhairabi Municipalities in Dailkeh allowed for mutual learning between participants and local farmers, where the local farmers showcased the use of solutions and technologies like plastic tunnels, drip irrigation, mulching, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, and mixed cropping. These methods promoted by the project, aim to minimise farmers’ efforts, reduce reliance on chemical pesticides, while improving yields and maximising profits. The participants interacted with community members, learning about their journey of moving towards organic farming methods.

3 Demonstration of action research Sunayana
Demonstration of action research
I am happy to see the achievements of the GRAPE project, especially its success in persuading farmers to embrace and experiment with innovative organic farming techniques. - Zakir Hussain, a Research Associate at the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council

Zakir went on to elaborate that in his region, convincing farmers to adopt these practices has proven to be the most daunting challenge for young researchers striving to promote climate-resilient agricultural methods.

The workshop has led to several valuable lessons and recommendations:

  1. Empower young individuals in agriculture and agribusiness, recognising their potential as agents of change in the HKH agricultural sector.
  2. Promote sustainable approaches among farmers; this is underscored by the success of climate-resilient farming practices showcased during the workshop.
  3. Digital tools enhance climate resilience within agriculture, emphasising the need for their widespread promotion and adoption.
  4. Collaboration between government bodies and organisations like MoLMAC supports their vision of organic farming and helps to develop policies promoting sustainability.
  5. Knowledge exchange programmes and field visits are practical tools to bridge the gap between theory and practice, and inspire individuals to bring sustainable practices to their regions.
  6. Raise awareness of the intergenerational climate challenge and the central of young people in addressing it, both locally and globally.
  7. Invest in agroecological education and training to equip individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.
  8. Share widely the success stories of local farmers in Karnali Province to inspire hope and optimism and use them as models for sustainable agricultural practices.
  9. Foster collaboration among organisations, projects and youth-focused initiatives, such as GRAPE, ICIMOD, and Antarprerana, a pioneer business incubation hub in Nepal, to empower the youth and advance sustainable agriculture collectively.

In addition to these recommendations, we suggested efforts to establish and promote networking opportunities among youth from diverse backgrounds and countries. The workshop has undoubtedly laid the foundation for forging meaningful cross-border collaborations with immense potential in sustainable agriculture and climate resilience. Expanding these cross-border partnerships will enable participants to work on collaborative agricultural projects, exchange invaluable knowledge, and collectively tackle climate challenges. These collective efforts are essential for building a greener, more resilient future in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region.

Author

Climate Resilient Agriculture Analyst GRAPE, ICIMOD

Research Associate, ICIMOD

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