Increasing vegetable production in a time of climate change

Anju and her husband, Shamsher Shrestha, own a small piece of land in their village of Jhangajholi Ratamata in the Sindhuli district, which lies to the southwest of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. They, like 66% of the people who live in rural areas, depend on agriculture for their livelihood and are smallholder farmers.

Rural farmers in Nepal are faced with a variety of challenges. Harvests are minimal due to limited availability of arable land, incidence of pests, and the adverse affects of climate change, such as droughts. In most cases, harvests aren’t even enough for a family to feed itself, which means that vegetable consumption in Nepal is low (less than 100 grams of raw vegetables per person per day) leaving the country with a chronic malnutrition problem.

Anju and Shamsher’s small plot of land had only been yielding them a relatively poor income and they wanted to change their situation by learning how to begin growing a more profitable crop of vegetables.

They approached various organizations and government bodies, such as the district agriculture development office, but they didn’t receive the advice and support they were looking for to change their crops and methods. However, things soon changed in 2013 when CARE Nepal launched the UNNATI project in their area, specifically designed to help smallholder and marginalized farmers increase their income and improve their livelihoods through vegetable production and marketing.

Anju and Shamsher became part of the project through their village’s farmer group, and soon things began to change. They became eligible to receive various kinds of capacity building support, including training in seasonal and non-seasonal vegetable production, group management, institution building, and also received technical backstopping from local agricultural technicians. In addition to the training and technical expertise, they also received subsidized vegetable seeds, micro- and drip- irrigation systems, specialized plastic housing, and other farming equipment necessary for their new crops.

In just a short time, Anju and Shamsher were able to successfully grow vegetables on their two-ropani (approx. 1000 square metres) plot. In fact, they were even able to grow vegetables in adverse climactic conditions by using newly learned climate-resilient agricultural techniques. Their experience with higher production and receiving an income even in the off-season meant they could extend their land and lease five-ropani (approx. 2500 square metres) of land to grow more vegetables. Now, with seven ropani of land, Anju and Shamsher have been able to grow tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, cucurbits (a type of gourd), and more.

In the beginning there were many challenges, especially dealing with insects, pests and disease, as well as learning how to market their produce. So they learned by building three polytunnels (or polyhouses), which are half-moon shaped plastic constructions that are placed over crops and protect them from the elements, but also provide the heat and humidity many crops require.

They now have a total of 17 tunnels, and while the price per unit of these tunnels is increasing, the increasing yields are helping to offset the cost; tomato production alone has allowed them to earn 200,000 Rupees (approx. 1,680 Euros). Anju and Shamsher have become model farmers in their area, and farmers and other visitors stop by to observe their fields. Even the local technicians comment on how the two farmers have become even more experienced than them.

Their increased income has allowed their family to start paying off their bank loans, and they can now afford their children’s educational needs, as well as their family’s health and clothing needs.