‘Smart agriculture’ helps ease migration stress


Ram Bahadur Rayamajhi returned to his home village in western Nepal’s Pyuthan district several years ago, after suffering from a nerve problem. To provide for his household he took up farming as his main profession but the lack of a good water source to irrigate his one hectare of land left him dependent on erratic rainfall to grow his mustard crop. He also struggled with pests and diseases. As a result, he ended up farming only half of his land, leaving the rest barren, until two years ago, when the provincial government launched a “smart agriculture” programme in his village of Darbhan.

Rayamajhi now irrigates his land from a 75,000-litre tank, filled with water pumped from a borehole using a motor driven by hydroelectric power, and his mustard harvest had almost doubled this season. Plastic tunnels also provided by the programme, meanwhile, have helped protect his tomato crop from hail, excess rain and disease.

The smart agriculture programme funded and managed by the government of Lumbini province is now operating in 116 villages, up from 52 in the first year. The four-year scheme distributes 5 million Nepalese rupees ($42,700) per year to each village to provide subsidised inputs and services to farmers. According to Lumbini’s ministry of agriculture, up to 20% of the budget is used to develop site-specific technologies and practices to help farmers cope with a warming climate.

In response, the programme is providing drought-tolerant crop varieties such as Raja-14 rice which requires less water to grow and livestock breeds like the Boer goat, a hybrid that is bred to adapt to local conditions. Nearly 60 households in the village have benefited from similar equipment and can use water from two tanks to irrigate. Officer Ramjali said no study had been carried out on whether the smart agriculture programme was reducing migration pressures but it had enabled farmers to make more money from their land.

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