Farming in Nepal has run into rough weather -- literally.
Farmers in Kavrepalanchok district, 45 km northeast of the national capital, are facing difficulties owing to scarce rains and rising temperature and the extent to which climate change is affecting their livelihoods.
"There is a noticeable change in climate. Now the onset of summer is too early and that often results in either premature ripening of crops or their not gaining optimum size," vegetable grower Babu Ram Dhithal, who lives in Patlekhet village, told this visiting IANS correspondent.
He said the normal rainfall patterns have changed a lot.
"When our crops need rainfall, there are often long dry spells. And when it rains, it's plentiful and most of the time it's a flood-like situation that damages the crops more," the 42-year-old farmer explained.
Nepal's economy largely depends on agriculture, which is mainly rain-fed. Sixty-five percent of the people are engaged in agriculture.
The World Bank says agriculture accounts for more than 30 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
According to the World Bank, 47 percent of Nepalese farmers have less than half a hectare (or 5,000 square metres) of land.
But there is a silver lining in these black clouds for the farmers in the form of a programme that aims to create "Climate Smart Villages".
The ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development), headquartered here, is implementing the Climate Smart Village programme in five villages in Kavrepalanchok district under the Himalayan Climate Change Adaption Programme (HICAP).
The programme aims to adopt water-smart, cropping-smart, energy-smart and IT-smart practices.
Agriculture expert Keshab Dutt Joshi said the planting schedule has been changed in the low hills of Nepal because of change in rainfall patterns and temperature increases.
"A decade back there would be two summer rice crops followed by one winter crop," Joshi, who is associated with NGO Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), told IANS.
"Now the farmers are cultivating wheat, followed by rice in summer and then one crop in winter. They opted for the wheat crop because of less rainfall. This clearly indicates the change in climatic conditions," he added.
His observations are echoed by octogenarian farmer Krishna Bhadur Dhungana, who was born and brought up in Darimtar village.
"For the past 10-15 years the duration of the rainfall has declined. But the process was not overnight; it was slowly and slowly," he added.
Dhungana, whose family consists of more than 50 children and great-grand children, said many years ago, there were plantations of rice and maize. Now wheat has been added.
Abid Hussain, ICIMOD's food security economist, said a pilot field survey was conducted in the five adopted climate smart villages to study the existing water management practices, cropping patterns, energy sources and nutrients and soil management.
To cope with declining agriculture production and increased outbreaks of insects and disease, Hussain said water-smart, cropping-smart, energy-smart and IT-smart practices have been adopted.
As an example, he said: "We have introduced a drought-resistant rice variety in two pilot villages to overcome water scarcity. The government is promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method of rice cultivation in the eastern Terai. So we have introduced SRI method in Mahadevsthan and Nayagaun villages."
According to Hussain, this method requires less water and fewer seedlings compared to the traditional rice cultivation.
Rice grower Nani Maiya Dhungana of Kalchebesi village said for the first time they have adopted the SRI method of cultivation.
As an example, she said instead of pesticides, the farmers in the village are using home-brewed alternatives.
"We are using 'jholmol' (a bio-pesticide). It's really helping controlling pests and improving soil fertility too," she added.
'Jholmol', the technology promoted by ICIMOD, is the generic name for a biofertilizer made from cow dung and urine and supplements of medicinal plants like neem.
These smart farming practices would really help in countering climatic challenges, Hussain said.
(Vishal Gulati is in Kathmandu at the invitation of ICIMOD. He can be contacted at email@example.com)