Climate smart villages help female farmers in Nepal

By Bhrikuti Rai

Nepal Kavre Berberi

Seven years ago, Tanka Maya Magar, who lives on the outskirts of Belbari, a town in Morang district in eastern Nepal, suddenly had to do something she had never done before. Her husband had moved to Qatar to earn money and so it was now up to her to run their family farm, a job traditionally done by men.

Since then, she has ploughed the fields for hours at a time. And at harvesting time, she spends weeks cutting, threshing and cleaning the crops by hand. She has learnt to handle the water pumps and she also knows which kind of tractors work best for the fields and which she can afford to hire on her limited budget.

Magar begins her day by tending to the cattle before dawn, then prepares breakfast, before sending her three daughters to school and starting work in the field.

She’s not the only one. According to a 2009 World Bank survey, 57 per cent of all households in Nepal have at least one member who is or was a migrant, with 2.1 million Nepali migrants, mostly men, working abroad – in a bid to earn more money.

Besides the increased workload, these women, many of whom have little or no education, must grapple with an erratic monsoon and drying water sources — effects of a changing climate.

Training, technology and finance

To help them deal with this, researchers are setting up climate smart projects in Nepal. Such initiatives already exist elsewhere, for instance in India. The Nepali branch of the development charity Practical Action Consulting is now modeling its so-called smart climate agricultural interventions in the districts of Chitwan, Jhapa, Morang, Parsa and Sarlahi on the Indian examples.

“With men migrating for work, it’s the women who are left behind to manage homes and farms with little resources, so our programme aims to work closely with them to help them realise their potential as champions of community resilience.”

Nand Kishor Agrawal, Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme of ICIMOD

This national initiative is called the International Finance Corporation’s climate resilience project, and aims to provide farmers with the training, technology and finance needed to adapt to climate change risks.

Besides this project, in May, the Nepal-based organisations CEAPRED (Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development) and ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development), also started piloting climate smart villages in Kavre district.

The idea is to educate smallholder farmers, especially women, about climate-smart farming techniques and help them access weather and vegetable price information using mobile phones.

“After seeing climate smart village models in the Indian state of Bihar, we wanted to adapt it to a mountain context in Nepal,” says Nand Kishor Agrawal, coordinator of the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme of ICIMOD. “With men migrating for work, it’s the women who are left behind to manage homes and farms with little resources, so our programme aims to work closely with them to help them realise their potential as champions of community resilience.”

The climate smart village programme has already trained women in Kavre to form farmers’ groups, start a women’s cooperative that provides savings and credit facilities, and prepare organic fertilisers and compost.

Dealing with erratic monsoons

“We are trying to understand what climate change is and learning to cope better with drying water sources, erratic monsoons and scarce labour,” says Kamala Sapkota, a farmer who lives in Kavre. Her husband recently left for Saudi Arabia after working in Malaysia for six years, leaving her to take care of the family and their farm.

“I am already saving money by switching from chemical to homemade pesticide and using waste water from cleaning on vegetables planted in my backyard,” she says.

According to government figures, agriculture accounts for about 39 per cent of Nepal’s GDP (gross domestic product) and provides two-thirds of jobs. Rising food prices, scarce labour and unpredictable monsoon rains are putting extra strain on people who grow their own food, says Keshab Joshi, program director at CEAPRED.

Kamala Sapkota 2 SciDev.jpg
Tanka Maya Magar, a farmer living in Belbari.

And women — especially in developing countries — are often more exposed to the risks of extreme weather than men, because they can be less mobile and lack access to traditional means of communication, according to the UN’s World Meterological Organization (WMO).

The issue is now getting international attention. A WMO conference on Gender Dimensions of Weather and Climate Services in Geneva, Switzerland, in November addressed the issue of helping women deal with the problem.

“If we are to help communities cope with long-term climate change and the anticipated increase in hazards like floods and heatwaves, then we need to do more to reach out to women with gender-sensitive services,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud ahead of the summit.

> Link to the WMO Conference on Gender Dimensions of Weather and Climate Services


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