Drought, extreme weather events, and shifting pest and disease patterns are some of the challenges posed by a changing climate that affect farmers all over the HKH. One such farmer is Puna Rawat Bhandari, 31, from Dailekh District, in western Nepal, where she plays a vital role as a local resource person at the Community Learning Centre in Bhandaritol, Ward 4, Dullu Municipality.
Bindu Sahi, a 23-year-old from Birendranagar, a city in Surkhet District, western Nepal, cycles from home to home through her community selling vegetables from her family farm. While engaging with her customers, she also shares the story of her family’s success with climate-resilient farming practices, and the importance of sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change.
Surkhet District is grappling with the adverse effects of climate change. Changing rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures are affecting agriculture, making it difficult for farmers to sustain their livelihoods and plan their crops. Furthermore, a heating climate is making more hospitable conditions for crop pests and diseases that were not previously a problem. This is particularly daunting for smallholder farmers like Bindu, whose family relies on agriculture.
“I remember a time when my family had an abundant harvest, which we would share with our neighbours. But now, production has been steadily declining. Irregular and unpredictable rainfall and new pests and diseases forced us to resort to chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Despite this, production was barely enough to meet our needs”, she shares. Bindu, who lives with her parents and seven siblings, helps her parents with their 0.2 acre of land – all while pursuing a Master’s degree in health science.
To farm or not to farm?
Although Bindu has a deep love for farming, her father believes agriculture offers no prospects for a successful future. Existing socio-economic challenges such as limited access to finance, technology and markets, poor infrastructure, and widespread poverty make it difficult for families like Bindu’s to make a living from agriculture. Adapting to climate change impacts adds another challenge. However, Bindu’s unwavering determination to support her parents compelled her to seek innovative solutions to their farming challenges.
Discovering climate-resilient agriculture
Representing her father, Bindu attended the first meeting of the Green Resilient Agriculture Productive Ecosystems (GRAPE) project as a member of the local Langansil Farmers’ Group, officially registered with Birendranagar municipality. The group, which is focused on the production of seasonal vegetables, comprises 27 local farmers, of which 24 are women and 3 are men. It was in this meeting that Bindu learned about climate-resilient agriculture (CRA), which is based on simple, affordable, Nature-based Solutions and aims to increase people’s capacity to adapt climate change.
Bindu attended the demonstrations and actively participated in the training events focusing on CRA practices. These practices included drip irrigation, which is water-efficient, and the use of biological pest control and biofertilisers. ICIMOD’s particular focus in the GRAPE project is on ‘action research’, which emphasises participatory research conducted with, for, and by people. It involves cycles of action and reflection, and aims to enable change through innovation and demonstrating proven solutions. Through this approach, the project enables farmers, like Bindu, to actively engage in the research process and see the tangible impact of CRA practices.
Bindu has implemented some CRA practices in her family farm, which have significantly improved productivity. She has constructed a pond for greywater – this is domestic wastewater generated in households from sinks, showers, or baths but not from toilets; Bindu uses the greywater for irrigation. By reutilising wastewater, and not having to rely only on rainwater or spring water, and by using environmentally friendly biopesticides and biofertilisers instead of harmful and expensive chemical products, these practices have strengthened her family’s resilience to climate shocks and change.
She has also installed different lures and traps for pest control, which attract and trap pests through the use of colours and the scent of female insects. Bindu also prepared and used jholmol – homemade biofertilisers and biopesticides. Jholmol are not only cost-effective but also eco-friendly, mitigating the need for expensive and environmentally damaging chemical fertilisers and pesticides (https://lib.icimod.org/record/35011). In addition, she used ‘Vermiwash’ spray to control nutrient deficiencies in the plants – a nutrient-rich liquid made as a byproduct of vermicomposting, or worm composting, whereby earthworms aerate the soil, digest organic matter and produce castings that are a valuable source of humus.
These practices have also increased Bindu’s family’s household income: in April 2023, the family generated nearly NPR 30,000 (approximately USD 225) in revenue selling seasonal vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Most of these vegetables are sold in the family’s home city of Birendranagar.
Inspiring change in the community
Eager to share her success, Bindu often invites other farmers to visit her farm, where the GRAPE project has established a community learning centre. Her goal is to raise awareness among fellow farmers about simple solutions that help mitigate climate change impacts. She frequently assists neighbouring farmers in adopting these techniques.
Bindu’s passion and dedication have inspired others to embrace sustainable farming practices. “I was unsure about using biopesticides and traps to control pests on my farm because I had always relied on chemical pesticides. But when I visited Bindu's farm and saw the incredible results first-hand, my doubts vanished. The biopesticides and traps she used were incredibly effective in controlling insect pests and pathogens. Now, I have decided to adopt the same solutions on my own farm,” shares Krishna Sahi, a neighbouring farmer.
Embracing the potential of climate-resilient agriculture
Bindu firmly believes in the immense potential of climate-resilient agriculture practices. “While climate change poses significant threats to agriculture, instead of succumbing to despair, it is important we confront these challenges head-on. With the right adaptation measures and sustainable practices, agriculture can not only survive but also thrive in a changing climate”, she says.
Through her work, she demonstrates that, by prioritising the health and wellbeing of both people and the environment, agriculture can become a force for positive change in the face of climate change. Bindu also encourages other young individuals to consider pursuing a future in agriculture, highlighting the importance of sustainable and climate-resilient farming practices. While committed to her studies, she remains dedicated to supporting her parents in their farming activities, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for their family and community.
At a time when many young people are abandoning agriculture, Bindu’s story serves as an inspiration for others, demonstrating the potential in using and promoting climate-resilient agricultural practices at home and in the community.