Increasing Long-Term Resilience and Building a Sustainable Irrigation Framework for Nepal’s Feed the Future Zone
This post is written by Anton Urfels.
Timely, robust and efficient irrigation can increase agricultural productivity, livelihoods and resilience, and that’s truer than ever in the wake of the disruptions and socioeconomic changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat the negative impacts of COVID-19 to smallholder farmers in Nepal and increase their resilience, besides providing immediate assistance to young return migrants and women, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA)-Nepal COVID Response and Resilience project puts its focus on building a sustainable irrigation framework for Nepal’s USAID Feed the Future Zone, as irrigation is key to increasing agricultural productivity and long-term resilience.
The high-level stakeholder consultation for “CSISA Resilience: Sustainable Irrigation Framework for Nepal’s Feed the Future Zone” was held on December 7, 2020, with over 50 participants from federal and provincial-level governments, farmers associations, civil society, private sector and development agencies. The objectives of the consultation were to gain feedback on the current draft of the sustainable irrigation framework with specific attention to: (1) identify biophysical and socioeconomic barriers of irrigation in Nepal through participatory discussions, and (2) develop hydro-crop modeling scenarios.
The event was opened by Ms. Sarita Dawadi, the joint secretary of the Water Resources Division of Nepal’s Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation. In her opening remark, she alluded to the crucial role that institutions play for sustainable irrigation development. She called for necessary changes to the way we think about providing equitable and efficient water services, stressing that a change of culture, in tandem with better information and technical development, is required to achieve sustainable outcomes.
After a short introduction to the different project activities by project partners from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Texas A&M University (TAMU) and Cornell University, the participants split into breakout groups to have in-depth discussion sessions focusing on the goals of the workshop. This was followed by a short debrief and open discussion in the plenary, which was facilitated by Krishna Nepal, the deputy director general of the Department of Irrigation.
The session on biophysical aspect and conjunctive use planning, led by IWMI’s Vishnu Pandey, found that there is a critical need for higher resolution data, especially for groundwater resources. In addition, Rajan Bhattarai from Research and Development Center, Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, highlighted that “a better understanding and data about the irrigation practices of farmers would help to develop better targeting of irrigation interventions.” Participant Bharat Upadhyay, from the USAID-funded Knowledge-Based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture in Nepal (KISAN) II project, further added that “Water User Associations and local institutions are invaluable for sharing knowledge and effective water management practices with farmers and communities.” All in all, with better information and strong institutions to act upon this information, the group agreed that farmers can be better linked to commercial value chains for a resilient production of diverse and nutritious foods.
In the group on socioeconomic aspect, led by IWMI’s Manohara Khadka, they pointed out that the issue of improving and aligning knowledge management and inclusive planning with the current process of devolution of power remains a challenge. “To develop irrigation systems, when we talk about resource, we also need to talk of rights (jurisdiction) related to water and agriculture in the province and local level, these rights and responsibilities need to be harmonized,” said Yuga Nath Ghimire, senior scientist at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC). In addition, the group noted that most farmers, especially marginalized groups, lack access of knowledge on good practices, land and timely availability of inputs. Suggestions were made that community groups with a focus on high-value crop production would be important pathways for improving water productivity and incomes.
The irrigation scenario modeling, led by TAMU’s Raghavan Srinivasan, paid specific attention to the different cropping systems and zonings for crop production that should be evaluated. The group specified that local conditions in terms of seasonal water availability matter for local planners. At the same time, the government’s focus on spring rice production and its targets of food self-sufficiency should be taken into account. Assessing the possibilities and options for integrating high-value crops was specified as crucial.
Next to iterating the aforementioned points, the open discussion showed that it is a difficult and complex process to find the right balance between devolution of power to make inclusive and context-specific decisions and spreading the government’s capacity too thin without leveraging critical coordination functions by higher level institutions. As such, the dialogue opened up the space to facilitate fruitful conversations on the current conditions and possible development pathways that will need to be considered when designing the sustainable irrigation development framework.
The workshop was closed by the director general, Madhukar Rajbhandari, who thanked the participants for their active contributions and stated that he is “very pleased to see such active and wide ranging engagement as Nepal has considerable water resources and needs to strategically and sustainably use them to empower the inclusive development of its economy.” He further added that “we need to think out of the box and jointly develop better approaches, institutional arrangements and information systems that can transform Nepal’s agriculture,” and concluded that “the development of this framework has the full backing of Ministry’s of Irrigation leadership and that immediate assistance shall be provided where necessary.”