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Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation in Nepal: Integrated maize-based farming systems in the mid hills (mixed cropping)

Summary of country findings: Nepal

This study is one of 5 country studies (Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania) exploring planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation to climate change. The agricultural system described as an integrated, maize-based system in the mid hills, featuring mixed cropping including rice, wheat, legumes, millet, vegetables, and fruit trees, as well as livestock.


Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy accounting for about one third of Nepal’s GDP. Employing over 70% of the workforce (CBS 2008), it is not only a source of livelihood but also a way of life for the majority of the population. However, food security data highlights wide discrepancies between the different regions of the country with the hill and mountain regions seeing food deficits of -14% and -19%, while the lowland terrain region is 11% in surplus (SINA, MOAC, 2009). In order to address issues of food security, it is important to understand how hill farming systems work and how to best support farmers to adapt to more variable and extreme conditions expected with climate change.

Integrated Hill Farming Systems

The integrated hill farming system is the main characteristic of the low to mid hills of Nepal, which is set up as terrace farming. This study focuses on the mid-hills, where farming is mixed, diverse and subsistence orientated and in which there is a close interaction between crops, animals and forests. Dhading district is used for this case study, with a focus on the regions of Salang and Jogimara Village Development Committee (VDC). The agricultural land is terraced, with maize-based cropping systems on the higher khet land, and rice-based cropping systems in the lower, irrigated bari lands. Other crops include millet, pulses, vegetables, mustard, and buckwheat. The integrated and diversified nature of the system provides it with some resilience and ability to withstand a degree of climatic variability.

Farmers cultivate largely for their own subsistence, but may sell small quantities of fruit, dairy products or goat meat in the market to smooth their consumption over a year and to gain an income for non-subsistence items such as education and medicines. The majority of farming households do not have sufficient production to feed their family for the whole year, so migrate for seasonal work over the winter period to supplement their income.

The Future of Integrated Hill Farming Systems

Integrated farming systems have seen a number of changes in recent years, including a growing preference for rice as a staple instead of maize, land degradation caused by increased use of chemical fertiliser, increased market access and a new preference for growing cash crops, and significant outmigration by the young, with around one-third of young people from the two study sites absent at the time of sampling. These factors, combined with government policies that focus on commercial farming, and that are largely indifferent to hill farming, pose significant challenges. Climate change adds considerably to these challenges (see Box).

Impacts of climate change on the system

Local observations and local climate projections both highlight gradually increasing temperatures, an increase in extreme events and seasonal shifts. The integrated nature of the farming systems means these climatic changes affect agriculture in complex ways. In particular droughts during the maize sowing period affect not only the timing of the maize crop, but also the timing of subsequent crops, which must themselves be harvested before the dry season. Prolonged winter droughts leads to the drying of water sources as well as affecting soil preparation. Heavy rainfall events cause landslides and hailstorms destroy crops. Irregularities in animal breeding seasons mean forage is not always available at the critical periods. The below table shows some of the agricultural changes likely to be induced by climate change in this system.

Agricultural changes induced by climate change and other socio-economic factors

Changes to agriculture


Increasing preference for rice instead of millet consumption linked to a preference for cash crops

Increased access to market through new transport systems

Increased trend of out migration and foreign employment especially by the young population.

Decreased trend of livestock rearing through which the number of cattle has been drastically reduced and been replaced by more profitable hill goats.

Enforcement of laws on agriculture inputs has been weakened due to political instability.

Increased environmental degradation through increased use of chemical pesticides and insecticides for commercial farming, uncontrolled infrastructure and deforestation.

Movement away from subsistence agriculture to systems with greater levels of market interactions

Additional options for purchasing and selling of diverse food varieties.

Increased labour shortage in agriculture, the working burden is predominantly transferred to old people and women. Overall agricultural productivity is also expected to decrease.

Reduction in use of manure and increased use of chemical fertilizers, leading to a deterioration in soil quality and water holding capacity.

Quality and price of agricultural inputs and outputs are more variable and uncertain.

Intensifying climate-induced problems like change in precipitation, drying up of water sources, warming up of the environment as well as soil and water degradation.

Coping with climate variability – Existing strategies

A range of solutions to these climate change challenges, including sustainable soil and water management practices and the introduction of plastic ponds to store rainwater, are already available. However, knowledge of these technologies has not been widely disseminated and uptake of these methods has been slow. It should also be noted that the integrated farming system already has coping strategies for annual fluctuation in weather by being flexible in the crops that can be grown each year given the prevailing conditions. This will continue to give some protection against climate change, but will be steadily less effective as climate change impacts become more extreme.

Adaptation options and costs

The spread of adaptation options discussed during a stakeholder workshop attended by farmers, local and district-level stakeholders is shown below in Box. Identification and transfer of the adaptive technologies, mainly regarding varietal and farming practice technologies, and technologies to harvest and use rain water, has been identified as the priority signatures in the integrated hill farming system. Adaptation in this context therefore places a large emphasis on increasing the effectiveness of extension services and other processes and structures that can support the spread of information regarding available technologies and the results of adaptation focused research. The agricultural adaptation options should be built on activities that already exist in agricultural plans and thus should be done via an integrated programme approach rather than a piecemeal project approach.

Cost in communities

The unit of the costing done on the community level considers about 600 households from two villages. The identified total cost does not cover those costs that are borne by the households privately or autonomously to perform the adaptation activities.

Cost in district line agencies

The assumption for calculating the cost at the district level was that at least 40 villages of similar scale implement similar adaptation actions and the district line agencies are then responsible for technical support and coordination. Calculated total cost does not cover the cost of strengthening capacity and coordination.

National cost

Budgeting has been done with the assumption that at least 20 districts will implement the adaptation plan in at least 40 villages each of similar scale as the study sites. Again the cost for the major adjustment and capacity building regarding the national extension system, structural improvement in the institutions for research and extension are not included in the calculation.

The costs of these adaptation options were estimated using the principles of budgeting, and can be seen in the table below. These estimates are highly sensitive to the assumptions that were used.

Summary of Costs for Nepal

Now ($)

Later ($)


Specific activities in a village of 300 households




Coordination of local activities over 40 villages




Coordination of implementation activities in 20 districts of 40 villages each



Adaptation Options: Immediate actions and long-term policy plan

National Institutional Arrangements

Three ministries were identified as the crucial institutions for agricultural adaptation. These are the Ministry of Environment (the focal ministry for all climate change-related conventions and protocols that Nepal has signed), the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (for climate change adaptation) and the Ministry of Local Development (responsible for the planning and implementation of activities at the local level). The major constraints for climate change adaptation in Nepal’s institutional setup include:

  • The weak linkages among agricultural research, extension, education and climate information systems;

There may emerge a conflict and duplication of roles among the different institutions regarding the implementation of adaptation programmes. The lack of coordination between MoE and MoAC, particularly concerning their respective cells for climate change issues, hinders the process of mainstreaming climate change adaptation in the agricultural development plans of Nepal.; and

  • The limited capabilities of the agricultural service delivery agencies.

Currently, there is no programme or project by the Ministry of Agriculture to fund climate change adaptation measures in the agricultural sector. Existing programmes related to adaptation include projects for soil and water conservation, sloping land management, technology transfer, and agronomic training.

There are several NGO-funded projects, but these mostly go directly into projects, and the extent of NGO-funded projects is difficult to measure and monitor as most NGO funding does not go through official national accounts.

National Study Team

Content produced by: Paudel, B., Tamang, B.B., Lamsal, K and Poudel, P. (2011). “Planning and costing of agricultural adaptation with reference to integrated hill farming systems in Nepal.”

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