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INSIDE STORY: Climate-smart agriculture: learning from three agro-ecological regions of Nepal

Climate-smart agriculture mitigates climatic threats to food production in Nepal, which particularly affect women and smallholders.
Women farmers are vulnerable to climate impacts on agriculture in Nepal


Nepal’s agriculture sector, which accounts for around three-quarters of employment and one-quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, is strongly affected by current climate variability, uncertainty and extremes. Many farmers operate at small scales, with 26.7% having less than 0.2 hectares (ha) and 47.3% with less than 0.5 ha. Large numbers of these farmers are already poor and extremely vulnerable to climate change. The impacts on agriculture are more pronounced among women and smallholders, who have poor access to natural resources and public services, and limited livelihood options. Such producers are highly exposed and sensitive to climatic threats, such as droughts, floods, soil erosion, landslides, pest outbreaks, and heat and cold waves.

Adaptation problem

Outmigration of young men has led to a high proportion of women and the elderly in farming populations. This has had a negative effect on many women’s lives, due to their increased workload. Women also face structural power inequalities, as well as poor access to resources and information that could help to bolster their resilience against climate-induced shocks and stresses. Although the remittance economy is helping people to cope with climatic challenges in agricultural production, it cannot offset the reduced production and growing hardships faced by families in Nepal. The public distribution system is largely concentrated in accessible parts of the country, mostly in urban areas and the Terai (the country’s southern plains), with limited supplies in the remote mountains.

Adaptation Options

Specific adaptation options vary according to the nature of the climate-related hazards in different areas and their social acceptance by different communities.

Climate-related hazards differ between the studied villages, including: flooding and drought in Agyouli, Nawalparasi District; hailstorms, drought and insects in Majhthana, Kaski District; and hailstorms, drought, insects and torrential downpours in Ghanpokhara, Lamjung District.

The project identified and/or piloted several climate-smart agricultural interventions:

  • Rice-and-duck farming, in which ducks eat weeds and fertilise the rice fields with their droppings. Weeds proliferate in drought conditions to the detriment of the crop, so their consumption by ducks offers the dual benefits of improving crop yields and reducing the workload of women, who usually bear the responsibility of weeding. Duck droppings supply organic manure, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers while improving soil health and water-holding capacity. Ducks can be harvested for their meat.
  • Cattle-shed improvements, increasing storage and use of famyard manure. This results in higher nutrient and organic matter contents in the soils, improving crop yields and the water-capacity of the soil – an adaptation to increased drought. The need for chemical fertilisers, which release the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, is reduced. Additionally, livestock urine can be collected in improved cattle sheds, and this can be used as a biopesticide.
  • Efficient cardamom dryers, which use less wood fuel than traditional dryers, thereby reducing emissions and tree-felling. The new device does not generate smoke; this improves the quality of the cardamom and ensures a better sale price.
  • Cardamom-alder cultivation on sloping marginal land that is not suitable for crop production. This stabilises degraded lands, reducing soil erosion under heavy rainfall. Alder is planted with cardamom to provide shade, but also presents opportunities to produce Shiitake mushrooms, which can grow in alder trunks.
  • SMS-based agro-advisory communication, which enables information to be disseminated to the farming community by a technical team from Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD). The information might comprise weather forecasts, market information, advice on crop cultivation practices.

Key Messages

  • There is an urgent need for climate-smart agriculture in Nepal, given that the impacts of unpredictable weather patterns are already making themselves felt.
  • Climate-smart agricultural interventions should be designed using socially disaggregated vulnerability assessments, which articulate the local context and climate risks.
  • Communities are more likely to accept climate-smart agriculture technologies that have multiple benefits and fit well in their integrated system of agriculture.
  • Targeting and building the capacity of existing agricultural development institutions facilitates the implementation of climate-smart agriculture programmes.
  • Climate-smart agriculture has a better chance of success when different stakeholders match and apply leverage to share and obtain each other’s resources. These can include the private sector, government extension offices and non-governmental organisations.
  • Implementation of climate-smart agriculture becomes more effective if technologies are piloted and promoted in a package or portfolio of measures. This yields better results than in isolation, and also helps to sustain outcomes.
  • Interventions need to be shaped to fit the needs and perspectives of the targeted beneficiaries, in this case: women, lower-caste groups such as dalits and smallholder farmers.
  • A climate-smart agriculture approach should also seek to bring positive change in the leadership positions of women and socially excluded groups. This may involve increasing access to, and control over: decisions, income and information.

Authors and Funding

Keshab Thapa, Kiran Bhatta, Bhawana Bhattarai and Karma Dolma Gurung, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD), Nepal.

The report: “Climate-smart agriculture: learning from three agro-ecological regions of Nepal” is an output from a project commissioned through the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). CDKN is a programme funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Netherlands Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) for the benefit of developing countries.

Suggested Citation

Thapa, K., Bhatta, K., Bhattarai, B., and Gurung, K. D. 2016. Climate-smart agriculture: learning from three agro-ecological regions of Nepal. INSIDE STORIES on climate compatible development. Climate & Development Knowledge Network: London, UK.


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