Five Steps that Help Bring Climate-smart Agriculture to Smallholder Farmers: Case Notes from Nepal

Sustainable agriculture
Manish Bikram Shah and Bibhusha Tamrakar01.03.2023
Climate change has directly affected the food production system, creating scarcity or loss of food. The Asian Development Bank suggests that Nepal will likely lose 2.2.% of its annual GDP due to climate change by 2050. Farmers are finding it hard to plan and manage production due to changing crop patterns.

CASA and climate change

In Nepal, the Commercial Agriculture for Smallholder and Agribusiness (CASA) project, through its partners, is applying climate smart agriculture (CSA) practices to transform agri-food systems towards green and climate resilient practices with their project interventions in Madhesh and Lumbini Province. Under the Vegetable sector, CASA partnered with Paicho Pasal Pvt. Ltd, one such agribusiness that has more than 15,000 farming households in its supply chain. To mainstream climate change adoption measures at farmer level, CASA supported Paicho to employ Junior Technical Assistants (JTAs) who work year-round on providing timely advisory services and on imparting knowledge to farmers on Nursery Management, Integrated Pest Management and on introducing new variety of disease resistant seeds and climate smart farming technologies. Apart from this, the JTAs also run demo-plots in each collection centers to acquaint and educate farmers on new technologies and farming practices.

Drip irrigation
Using drips and tarps to protect the harvest from bad weather

To understand how the adoption was possible at farmer level, CASA conducted seven different focus group discussions (FGDs) at seven different locations with Paicho’s farmer groups.

Based on them, here are five key lessons CASA learnt in helping farmers transit from traditional farming technologies into a more climate-smart one. These also point to potentially important pathways for climate change outreach to farmers.

1.     Adaptation action is possible only when farmers perceive climate change as a threat

Farmers largely endorse adaptive action focused on preparing for more extreme weather events. But in order to be willing to take sustainable long-term adaptation measures, farmers need to perceive that the climate is changing or could change, and they need to attribute enough weight to this perception to take action.

Almost all the farmers agreed that extreme weather and untimely rainfall had affected their production and productivity in Provinces 2 and 5. In this sense, perceiving that the climate is changing can be seen as a pre-condition for the adoption of agricultural adaptation measures.

2.     Finding the right climate-friendly technologies and practices is the key

While there are various climate-smart technologies available, every farm is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Technologies must be tailored to the specific needs of the location and the plot of land to produce the best result.

This meant there was a resource dedicated to combating the situation, farmers were advised by the JTA’s to install drip irrigation systems that provided the fields with an ample supply of water, while conserving water. 

Few farmers from the group discussions put forward their plans to install an advanced irrigation system once they have funds available as they clearly saw the benefit outweighing any risks.

Only then would the farmers be willing to try and see the pros and cons of such practices, starting with frugal technologies utilising locally constructed, easily maintained technology appears to be a good approach, which may lead to more sophisticated technologies over time.

3.     Demonstration plots to visualise the benefits are very beneficial

Demo-plots are one of the most common features of agricultural extension and are important tools for enabling farmers to learn first-hand about improved agricultural production practices.

Well-organised demonstration plots contribute to the dissemination of information that simulates farmers to adopt new innovative ideas and practices to improve the quality of produces and increase farm output and income. Conducting demo plots also helps to intensify the impact of training and stimulate interest and credibility.

In Paicho’s case, the company had demo plots run by the company staff in the majority of their collection centers, where farmers can witness the new technologies in action and get to observe the increase in productivity before they start adopting. “Some even doubt the technology until the produce is harvested and they get to see for themselves the changes. Farmers want ‘foolproof’ technologies”, says Srijal Wagle, Lead JTA at Paicho.

4.     Guaranteed market is the bedrock for the adoption

Although farmers operate at multiple scales, their adaptation decisions are primarily driven by short-term on-farm benefits arising from the investment. In a world with perfect information, complete markets, and adequate incentives, the decision to adopt or implement a particular adaptation measure would simply be a matter of evaluating the net benefits of the technology.

Once they have adopted climate-smart agriculture practices, the farmers may see improvement in their productivity, yield, and the overall quality of their vegetables and crops, but all will be to no avail if the farmers don’t have a place to sell their produce. The market guarantee has been the single most important driver for adaptation for Paicho’s farmers as the company buys outputs from farmers in any quantity. This way farmers can completely focus on production and not worry about the markets.

5.     Financing the practices and technologies

A crucial factor hindering overall adoption is that some smallholders find the technologies to be beyond their financial capabilities. In Nepal, micro-financing the agriculture sector has become a common practice. There is a plethora of options made available for farmers requiring little to no collateral. Helping the farmers get connected to either entity would help them finance the technology of their choice, helping them improve their productivity. 

However, they often experience instances when supplying smallholders do not want to go through the bank lending route (due to lack of trust or complex procedures) and find it too difficult to directly deal with the service provider due to the financial resources required. In this case, the company provides the credit.

A worker in the field that has incorporated climate smart technology

Current Situation

With this support, now almost 60% of Paicho’s farmers practice mulching or tunnel farming and 25% use drip irrigation and other water conservation techniques. The FGDs carried out revealed that the farmers have increased their productivity by an average of 27% and they will continue to adopt new technologies in the presence of market guarantee by Paicho.

A farm owner practicing mulching
Preparing the field for climbers
Nepal, Rwanda, Ethiopia
Sustainable agriculture
Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness Programme
The project aims to involve smallholder farmer businesses sustainably in agricultural value chains, thereby improving their living conditions and economic situation. By building inclusive agricultural systems, smallholder farmers will have improved access to markets, information, and means of production. Additionally, the project emphasizes...