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Cultivating change in a changing climate: Local farmers transforming agriculture in western Nepal

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.
Published: 15 Sep, 2023
⏲ 6 minutes Read

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 Hindu Kush Himalaya. 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 (CLC) in Bhandaritol, Ward 4, Dullu Municipality. The CLC, which was established on Puna’s land (3 ropani, just over 1500m2), serves as a centralised location in the community where various climate-resilient agricultural tools, practices, and techniques are demonstrated.

“I learn about new and innovative farming practices as a local resource person of the Community Learning Centre every day. Not only do I expand my own knowledge, but I also share these findings with other farmers in the community,” says Puna.
Puna Rawat preparing Jholmal
Puna Rawat preparing Jholmal (Photo Credit: Rajendra Dhakal, ICIMOD)

Such findings include Vermi Compost and Vermi Wash, nutrient-rich organic materials used for fertiliser; Tricho-Compost, a specialised compost enriched with beneficial Trichoderma fungi; Jholmal 1, 2, 3, homemade bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides; and the Pitfall trap, a method of pest control that involves digging a pit around crop fields and installing a container or barrier to trap and capture insects, rodents, or other pests. These solutions have the collective aim of improving soil health, enhancing nutrient availability, reducing chemical dependency, and promoting sustainable farming practices. These benefits are invaluable for farmers grappling with the effects of the climate crisis. The primary purpose of the CLC is to showcase these resources to the community, allowing them to observe and eventually adopt the technologies and practices that best suit their needs.

Community engagement and ownership is a key aspect of the Green Resilient Agricultural Productive Ecosystems (GRAPE) project. To ensure this, the project has deployed local resource persons, orienting them to project activities, implementation methodologies, and action research processes. ICIMOD leads the GRAPE component on action research, which aims to enable change through innovation. Puna, in her role as a local resource person, oversees five farmer groups within the municipality (Bhandari Tole Bahu Udeshya Krishi Samuha, Him Shikhar Taza Tarkari Samuha, Gangalal Krishi Tatha Pashupalan Samuha, Jankalyan Krishi Tatha Pashu Palan Organic Krishi Sahakari, and Navajyoti Biu Utpadan Samuha). She fulfils various responsibilities, including social mobilisation, sharing information and knowledge, and providing support to activities conducted at the demonstration site.

Jholmal preparation and demonstration
Jholmal preparation and demonstration (Photo Credit: Sunayana Basnet, ICIMOD)

However, Puna’s journey to this position was not without challenges. She reveals that in the past, opportunities for capacity building were exclusively available to her husband. Training courses usually require significant travel and time from participants, to which Puna was unable to commit, given her household responsibilities. The implementation of the project in her community has opened doors for Puna’s personal growth and enabled her to enhance her understanding of climate change and sustainable agricultural practices. The CLC has provided her with firsthand involvement in action research and demonstrating innovative solutions right from the initial stages. This hands-on experience has not only enabled Puna to design and develop solutions independently but has also empowered her to educate and train fellow farmers.

“The concept of action research was completely new to the community as it involves active participation and engagement of farmers and communities in the research process, ensuring that the solutions and practices developed are tailored to the specific needs, challenges, and resources of the local farming community”, she shares.

By actively involving farmers, action research considers their knowledge, expertise, and traditional practices, which leads to more relevant and effective climate-resilient agricultural practices.

Sites of participatory research and learning

The CLC is part of ICIMOD’S component on the GRAPE project which focuses on action research and knowledge production, fostering climate-resilient food production systems, and improving digital access to agro-advisories in selected palikas or rural municipalities of Sudurpashchim and Karnali provinces of Nepal. We are collaborating with The Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED) to implement these activities in nine palikas across Dailekh, Surkhet, and Humla districts within Karnali Province.

Yellow sticky trap
Yellow sticky trap used for pest control. (Photo Credit: Sunayana Basnet, ICIMOD)

The project actively supports gender-friendly tools and technologies, recognising the significant involvement of women in agriculture, particularly vegetable production. Plastic tunnels, drip irrigation, mulching, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, and mixed cropping are among the methods encouraged by the project, aiming to minimise farmers’ efforts, reduce reliance on chemical pesticides, while maximising profits. Understanding that women in the community are often responsible for a multitude of tasks within their households, these tools and technologies significantly reduce the burden on women farmers. The technologies showcased reduce physical labour, improve time management, and alleviate the daily drudgery associated with traditional farming. These technologies contribute to a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable agricultural landscape, benefiting both women and the community as a whole.

Puna enthusiastically shares her newfound knowledge, for instance, she had no idea that using soap water and sticky traps could effectively control Tuta absoluta, a pest that affects tomato crops. These solutions have not been confined to the learning centre but have been adopted by farmers in the community. Almost 50% of the members of the farmers’ group have adopted at least one of the solutions demonstrated in the CLC, given their relatively low cost and local availability, and easy replication.

An agent of change

As a mother of four, Puna’s daily life can be incredibly hectic. Her mornings begin with preparing meals for her family, sending her children off to school, and tending to the livestock on her farm. Throughout the day, she juggles farm responsibilities with household chores, including cleaning and other tasks. Puna’s life is a constant balancing act between her family and farm duties. However, with the implementation of these innovative solutions, she has experienced a significant reduction in her farm-related workload without compromising production. In fact, vegetable production has increased by 10% to 15% compared to previous years, allowing her to not only meet her family’s consumption needs but also sell the surplus in the market. Previously, her family’s monthly income averaged NPR 20,000 (about USD 150), but now, thanks to sales of seasonal vegetables, including cabbage, cucumber and tomato, they have seen a significant boost, with monthly earnings reaching up to NPR 40,000. The additional income from the vegetable production has made a meaningful impact on her family’s financial situation. Previously, with her husband being the sole breadwinner, educational opportunities for their children were limited. But now, through the additional income, Puna is able to support her daughter’s education by sending her to a school with more resources in the neighbouring district of Surkhet. The family now has some savings, which they plan to invest in further expanding their vegetable production.

vegetables grown in the CLC
Puna Rawat showcasing the vegetables grown in the CLC. (Photo Credit: Rajendra Dhakal, ICIMOD)

Puna finds immense motivation in the initial positive results showcased by the climate-resilient practices and solutions demonstrated through the GRAPE project. She actively encourages other women to participate in commercial farming and acquire knowledge about climate-resilient agricultural tools and technologies. Puna’s journey as a knowledgeable farmer exemplifies the transformative power of community-driven initiatives such as the GRAPE project. Through her role as a local resource person at the CLC, she has not only expanded her own knowledge but also become an agent of change, inspiring fellow farmers to adopt climate-resilient agricultural practices. With her unwavering determination and the innovative solutions demonstrated at the CLC, she has overcome challenges, increased productivity, and improved her family’s livelihood. Her story exemplifies the potential for community-based initiatives to create lasting change and inspire others to embrace the power of knowledge and technology in building resilient agricultural systems.

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