Smartphone app helps Nepali farmers

[KATHMANDU] An Android smartphone application offers a convenient way for Nepali farmers to link up to the market and to experts atagriculture extension agencies on a single platform.

Called IFA Krishi Nepal, the app provides information in the Nepali language to farmers about planting crops, livestock disease, weather forecast and market prices, says Sibjan Chaulagain, who co-founded SMILES, the technology developer.

“Farmers can now use this app to go beyond the existing network of middlemen and get the best price,” says Chaulagain.

The app developers initially received a grant of US$8,000 in 2013 to build an SMS-based system to provide agricultural information to farmers. This system later evolved to the IFA Krishi app, first on Google play as a web-only application and now over smartphone.

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Private insurers may help Indian farmers weather the storm

By: Sandip Das | New Delhi | January 16, 2015 12:12 am

In a bid to protect farmers from erratic weather pattern, the government has invited private insurance companies, along with state-owned Agriculture Insurance Company of India (AIC), for providing various products relating to crop, weather and income insurance.

Sources told FE that for the last two decades or so only AIC, which is owned by four state-owned general insurance companies and Nabard, has been offering yield-based and weather-based crop insurance programmes. “Ten private general insurance companies are empanelled for implementation of crop insurance schemes for increasing coverage and create competition in crop insurance sector,” an official with agriculture ministry said.

The key private sector insurance companies, which have started to offer crop or weather insurance products, include ICICI Lombard, HDFC Ergo, Iffco Tokio and Bajaj Allianz. “The private sector would also bring in many innovative insurance products for catering to the need of the farmers in the context of climate change,” the official said.

The official said around 30 million farmers out of 120 million have been covered under the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), which mainly covers yield losses. Sixty five crops and around 25% of the crop areas are covered under crop insurance. About 70% of these are accounted for by farmers who own less than four hectares and a majority of farmers had been provided insurance by AIC.

“Crop insurance is going to become even more important in future, considering increasing climatic variability. Unfortunately, despite insurance reaching almost 30 million farmers today, there is widespread dissatisfaction. We need to develop simple products that are scientifically valid, economically viable, transparent, and acceptable to most stakeholders,” Pramod Aggarwal, regional programme leader, Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) platform, said.

Based on evaluation studies, the government had introduced National Crop Insurance Programme (NCIP) after merging Modified National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (MNAIS), Pilot Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) & Coconut Palm Insurance Scheme (CPIS) from Rabi 2013-14 season.

The premium paid under NCIP is higher than the NAIS as the premium being charged is on actual basis and claim liability as present is on the insurance company. However, the official said premium under NCIP had been provided with upfront subsidy up to 75% in case of MANIS and up to 50% under WBCIS.

Besides the revamped programme would offer insurance cover to the farmers where historical data on the crops are not necessarily available, thus helping farmers in dealing with the associated risk. However, NAIS would continue for a couple of years before being entirely merged with NCIP which also offering income insurance to the farmers.

NAIS is also available to farmers who have not taken bank loan and covers all food crops — cereals, millets & pulses, oilseeds and some horticultural crops which past yield data is available for adequate number of years. The premium varies between 1.5% to 3.5% of sum insured for food & oilseed crops and a 10% premium subsidy is provided to small & marginal farmers.

The Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme (CCIS), introduced in 1985 by the Centre in collaboration with state governments, was linked to short-term crop credit, where all loans for notified crops in a specific area were compulsorily covered.

Talking climate adaptation finance in Nepal

[KASKI] The crowd that gathered in a hall near Pokhara airport in the picturesque valley of Kaski in western Nepal, earlier this month (January) was a motley one. Farmers, community forest users,  mothers’ groups, development practitioners, local political leaders and a lawmaker quickly settled down to discuss pressing concerns of public participation, financial transparency, accountability of climate change adaptation projects in Kaski district. Such was the intensity of the discussions that the constant drone of aeroplanes landing and taking off across the road was only a minor irritation.
The public discussion programme, organised by Oxfam, Clean Energy Nepal and the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Nepal, was aimed at fostering dialogue among stakeholders of the Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA), funded by Germany and the US -funded Hariyo Ban (Green Forest) programmes in Kaski.

“Climate change adaptation projects in our village are yet to reach the most vulnerable communities affected by changing climate,” says Sagun Gurung of the Lhosepakha community forest group. “How can we address the gaps that need to be filled?” she asks the panellists seated on the dais.

“I am here because we get an opportunity to voice our community’s concerns to the major stakeholders and also learn what is happening outside our villages in terms of project implementation,” she tellsSciDev.Net.

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Aid aims to help rice farmers in a warming world

International team provides help to small-scale farmers on the eastern Ganges plains who are struggling to make a living and grow enough rice to feed the population.

KATHMANDU, 12 January, 2015 − Research scientists are coming to the aid of 300 million people along the River Ganges for whom rice is the staple food and who face a hungry future because productivity is poor and the harvest is threatened by climate change.

The team of scientists and development practitioners from Australia, Bangladesh, India and Nepal plan to improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of 7,000 small-scale farmers in the eastern Gangetic plains with a five-year US$ 6.7 million programme.

According to Nepal’s Ministry for Agriculture Development, 66 per cent of Nepal’s total population of almost 27 million is involved in agriculture and contributes 39 per cent in the GDP. Local scientists say that lack of access to climate-resilient technologies and dependency on monsoon rains for irrigation are major problems for farmers in Nepal.

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Study identifies ‘weak’ areas in India’s climate change fight

Study identifies ‘weak’ areas in India’s climate change fight

By: | January 13, 2015 11:03 pm
Climate change mitigation measures have received ‘subdued’ attention in comparison to adaptation interventions in most of the agricultural development initiatives, including National Food Security Mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, Integrated Dairy Development Programme, implemented by the government, an independent study has stated.

To build the country’s capability in dealing with erratic weather, the study has  identified ‘weak’ areas such as mechanisms for early warning systems on important weather related events, surveillance and alert systems for pest and disease outbreak, biodiversity conservation, collection, compilation and dissemination of indigenous techniques for climate change adaptation. “The existing framework gives relatively less emphasis on important areas that are necessary to strengthen climate resilience in agriculture,” a study by National Centre for Agricultural Economic and Policy Research (NCAP) a body under the agriculture ministry and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has stated.

It also states that the Indian agriculture sector is characterised by unfavourable factors such as low access to inputs and services, low market access, low mechanisation, high price variability, high levels of natural resource degradation, high climatic variability with frequent droughts, floods, etc, high incidence of pest and diseases, weak institutional support etc, that make ‘the farmers even more susceptible’.

“Under such circumstances, climate resilient agriculture with its multi-dimensional approach has promising potential to strengthen farming,” the study titled ‘Convergence of policies and programmes for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in India’ has noted.

Noting that the cause of climate change adaptation and mitigation has caught the attention of policymakers only recently, the study has suggested integration of agricultural development programmes so that noticeable changes on the field are brought in dealing with eventualities arising out of changes in climate.

The findings come at a time when agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh stated in Parliament last month that over 46 million hectare of agricultural land spread across 122 districts is likely to be adversely impacted by extreme weather and cause decline in output.

Agricultural output in vulnerable districts spread across states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and UP is likely to be impacted because of frequent erratic rainfall. “Uncertain and erratic rainfall, delay in onset of monsoon, droughts, excess rainfall events and other extreme weather events during crop growing seasons may affect agricultural productivity and profitability of the farming community, including small and marginal farmers,” Singh said in the Lok Sabha.

Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), in association with state agriculture universities, has developed agricultural contingency plans of 580 districts, which help farmers and administration in dealing with extreme weather conditions. Besides, ICAR conducted climate change impact analysis on crop yields using crop simulations models and has predicted reduction in yield for irrigated maize and wheat of about 18% and 6% annually, respectively, while the output of irrigated and rainfed rice is expected to decline by 4% and 6%, respectively, by 2020.

Climate change to trigger higher wheat crop losses than thought

Subhra Priyadarshini

Wheat crops will be affected more by soaring temperatures than previously thought.

Putting together results from 30 different crop models, scientists from across the world estimate that for every degree rise in temperature, the global wheat production is expected to go down by 6 per cent. South Asia, including India, is projected to be amongst the worst hit in terms of wheat production as temperatures soar.

A consortium of scientists, which tested crop models in wheat fields with mean growing season temperatures between 15ºC to 32ºC, suggests that more temperature resilient varieties of wheat and early warning systems could help meet challenges that climate change is bound to pose to food security.

“Normally, we use one model to see temperature impacts. This study took into account 30 different models and extrapolated the ensemble temperature response,” says Pramod Aggarwal, one of the authors from India in the multinational study. Aggarwal, the south Asia head of International Water Management Institute’s programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) says the impact of warming on south Asia’s wheat yields is expected to be highest. The losses are expected to be higher than previously thought.

The scientists estimate that the world will lose 42 Mt of wheat with each degree rise of temperature considering the present global production rate of 701 Mt in 2012. This, the study points out, is a quarter of global wheat trade, pegged at 147 Mt in 2013.

The most notable take home of the study is that change in temperature requires an adaptation strategy different from one that looks at change in rainfall. According to the authors, locations where plants suffer from high temperature stress have been identified across the globe. But none of the crop models have been tested systematically against experiments at different temperatures in field conditions. Glasshouse or controlled-environment temperature experiments are not suitable for model testing since heating of root systems in pots and effects on micro-climate are vastly different from field conditions.

The global study got underway after detailed information on field experiments on a wide range of sowing dates and infra red heating became available for wheat recently. The scientists chose the experimental locations using country statistics and disaggregated global mean surface temperature increases to regional surface temperature changes.

The modellers carried out simulations in a ‘blind’ test with phenology and yield data at normal temperature. Higher temperatures meant the number of days during which plants could intercept light for photosynthesis went down and this resulted in reductions in biomass and grain yields.

The scientists found that wheat grains failed to set when the mean temperature was greater than 28ºC and when there were extremely high temperatures early in the growing season.

“Since warming is a reality we are faced with, it would be imperative to continuously monitor agriculture systems and come up with early warning systems that can project crop production in short term,” Aggarwal says. The impact of soaring temperatures on wheat yields can be compensated by altering sowing dates, using different cultivars and effective fertilisers, he says.

For rice yields, an increase in temperature would not be as significant since paddy is less sensitive to temperature. However, indirect effects on production such as floods, cyclones and food storage losses are not accounted for in such studies and would be worth taking note as well, Aggarwal says.

1. Asseng, S. et al. Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production. Nat. Clim. Change. (2014) doi:10.1038/nclimate2470

2. Challinor, A. J. et al. A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 287–291 (2014) doi: 10.1038/nclimate2153

Noakhali farmers now produce great grass instead of food crops

03 January, 2015

Syful Islam (RTNN): Many farmers in Nokhali district have started producing great grass (hogla pata) instead of cultivating food crops in some lands as part of their effort to get adapted to the impacts of climate change.

They said cultivating great grass in salinity-affected and water-logged lands is possible while other crops can hardly grow there.

The increased salinity in soil, nearly six months long water-logging each year, and lack of irrigation facility had put the farmers in Ramharitalu village of Noakhali Sadar upzila in immense difficulties with farming. In many lands of this area even the stress-tolerant rice varieties are not suitable for cultivation.

The salinity and water-logging in lands had increased in the recent years as the impacts of climate change have started to be more visible. Noakhali, a South Eastern Bangladeshi district, represents an extensive flat, coastal and delta land, located in tidal flood plain of the Meghna river delta. Climate change-induced disastrous events often hit the district and seawater frequently enters the land.

Once the farmers of the village had been producing a handsome volume of rice and other food crops, which is badly affected in the recent years. So, the farmers have turned to producing great grass as it can tolerate stresses.

Earlier, great grass was being produced in these lands naturally and poor people of the village produced different household items with those as an extra income. Since salinity and water-logging have affected rice and other food crop production there, farmers have started to produce great grass as main crop as this can withstand stresses.

Nearly ten years back Abul Bashar of Ramharitalu village started great grass business. He collected great grass from the locality and sold the same at nearby Khalifar hat and Rab market.

He established a small cottage farm five years back and appointed scores of workers, mainly women, to prepare different types of household products from great grass.

Mr Bashar now sells those products even in capital city of Dhaka among the owners of different handicraft shops. Being encouraged by Bashar’s success some 12,000 men and women of Nokhali Sadar upzila now produce eye-catching household items and sell those at nearest markets and other towns.

Bashar said producing food crops in the saline-affected and water-logged lands was not profitable and “we had been losing crops frequently”. “As a result we had no option but to find out a stress-tolerant crop and we found cultivating great grass to be a suitable option.”

“Cultivation of great grass has brought financial solvency to many farmers in Noakhali district,” said Mr Bashar.

Nurul Alam Masud, chief executive of Noakhali based Participatory Research Action Network (PRAN), said great grass is a water-borne tree which once grew naturally near the rivers and seashores.

“Nowadays farmers cultivate great grass commercially and its farming is expanding fast in Noakhali district. You don’t need to take care of great grass a lot and no fertilisers nor pesticides are needed for its cultivation,” he said adding presently more and more new lands are coming under great grass farming as farmers get good return from it.

Mr Masud said with impacts of climate change having started putting adverse effects, farmers themselves are finding out ways to get adapted with the changed situation.

Northern dist. farmers prefer mango farming to paddy

01 January, 2015

Syful Islam (RTNN): With water level continuously going down many farmers in country’s north-eastern districts nowadays prefer growing mango to paddy, posing a threat to food security.

The impacts of climate change are causing droughts in several north-eastern districts leading to a significant fall of water level. At the same time, the average rainfall in those districts nowadays has also reduced significantly creating water shortage which hampers rice cultivation.

Statistics collected from Hardinge Bridge area shows that during the last twenty years water levels at the river during rainy season were between 17 and 20 metres and in summer between 7 and 10 metres. The low water flow from upstream has caused riverbeds to be filled up with excessive sediments creating massive water crisis during rainy season.

Farmers of these drought-prone districts say they need to depend on irrigation to grow rice which becomes much costlier and minimises return. As a result farmers of a large area of the district are now growing mango in paddy fields finding it more profitable than rice cultivation.

Officials at department of agriculture said the volume of arable lands in Rajshahi district has come down to 185,666 hectares in 2013 from 202,803 hectares in 2010. The rest 14,000 hectares of land is now being used in mango farming.

They also said the diversion of farmers to mango farming from rice or wheat cultivation is posing threat to food security of the area. Farmers of the area had produced 672,337 tonnes of rice in 2010 which in 2013 came down to 598,435 tonnes.

In Bholahat union under Chapainawabaganj district some 30 to 35 per cent lands have now come under mango farming instead of paddy or wheat. A number of researchers of Rajshahi University found that during the drought season farmers need to depend on irrigation to produce rice. As a result the cost of rice production goes significantly up which led their diversion to mango from rice production.

Akbar Mia, a mango farmer in Bholahat union, said water scarcity has pushed them towards mango farming.

“We sometimes see that rice and other crops wither before maturity due to water shortage. So, we switched to mango production from paddy getting no other options,” he said.

At the same time mango farming is also increasing in Charghat and Godagari upzilas under Rajshahi district. As a result livelihood of several thousands of day-labourers in those areas is under threat as mango farming needs less manpower.

The area is under Barind Tract which is the largest Pleistocene era physiographic unit in Bangladesh and the Bengal Basin. Officials said water level in the Barind Tract has gone down by 15 feet in last ten years.

In Bangladesh farming with deep tube well water had started in 1960s which in Barind Tract began in 2012. According to a report of Barind Multipurpose Development Authority some 14,620 deep tube wells were installed in the area. The excessive water extraction through these tube wells has caused fall in water level.

Senior Scientific Officer of Mango Research Centre, Rajshahi Alim Uddin acknowledged rise of mango farming each year as it costs lower than cultivating other crops there.

He said mango is a very important agricultural item in this region. “Farmers find mango cultivation more profitable than other crops since mango farming needs less volume of water, pesticides, and nurturing.”

Chief Scientific Officer of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) Shajahan Kabir said mango farming is rising in high drought-prone areas since cultivation of rice and other crops is not suitable there.

He said BRRI has recently introduced three drought-tolerant rice varieties to encourage farmers in drought-prone districts in rice production to keep food basket intact.

“We requested farmers to cultivate Aus varieties which need less irrigation than Boro rice,” he added.