Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Agro-strategy Tailored To Protect Ecosystem

Shankar Sapkota


This year’s World Environment Day was recently observed with the theme ‘ecosystem restoration.’ Every nation had their own slogans appropriate to their specific need and priority. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-30) has envisioned mitigating the catastrophic climate change. The UNEP and FAO marked the decade as “a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature”.
Deforestation, fire, overgrazing, landslides, floods, soil erosion, melting of glaciers and flash floods are major problems facing the agriculture and environmental sectors especially in mountainous countries like Nepal. The ecosystem is a natural phenomenon having a biological community interacting with organisms and their physical environment. It is also a complex network or interconnected system and thus, it needs to be addressed with an integrated approach. Agricultural programmes have an impact on a wide scale of ecosystem services, including biodiversity conservation, pollination, nutrient cycling, soil retention and carbon sequestration.

Agro strategy
Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS 2015-35) has overall objectives that include five dimensions - poverty reduction, increase in food production, nutrition security, enhanced competitiveness and higher equitable income of farmers. In the area of environmental protection, it supports the implementation of the Local Adaptation Plan of Action and the National Adaptation Programme of Action. It also supports disaster preparedness programmes such as establishing an early warning system, strengthening the food, seed, feed reserve system, preplanning response for droughts, floods, epidemics, and emergencies, and promoting agriculture insurance. In addition, the SDG, Zero Hunger Challenge Initiative, and 15th Periodic Plan of Nepal are the other policy guiding documents related to agriculture and the environment.   
Further, Climate Protection Act 2053, Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act 2075, National Agroforestry Policy 2076, National Agriculture Policy 2061, Agro Bio Diversity Policy 2063 (1st amendment 2071), National Land Use Policy 2069, Climate Change Policy 2076, and others are the legal and policy frameworks for connecting the agriculture with the environment.
The Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) project has demonstrated ways to integrate climate risk and resilience into core developing planning. Additional resources have been mobilised for agro-biodiversity conservation and promotion of organic farming from FAO TA and others. With the support from World Bank and FAO, a Climate Smart Agriculture Investment Plan (CSAIP) has recently been developed for advancing the climate-smart initiatives in the agriculture sector in Nepal.
With the technical support from UNDP, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD has introduced climate budget coding initiative that is mostly useful for tracing out the trends of climate budgeting and also helps to find the budget gap in the sectors. It is a pioneering scheme in the context of climate coding budget planning especially in the agro sector that is now gradually becoming digital with the programmes like digital soil mapping, farmers’ registration and listing, distribution of Soil Health Cards, provision for Kisan Credit Cards, and others. The actual database record is also generated for the planning and policy decision process.
Soil is the fundamental physical part of an ecosystem. In the case of soil fertility management, the programmes such as farm manure management (gotha sudhar), compost making, green manuring, solid waste management, vermicomposting and introduction of leguminous crops have helped improve the soil health and also protect environment.   
The impact of climate change has been seen in the agriculture sector. The geographical boundary line between tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate fruits and crops is now gradually blurring and the hilly grazing lands are slowly disappearing. MoALD has initiated the interventions such as on-farm water management practices, drip irrigation and rainwater harvest, snow and summer water collection, renovation of natural pounds and lakes, kitchen wastewater management and pasture-land management as the coping strategy programmes. These activities make the mountain communities resilient and increase the water use efficiency in a sustainable way.  
From the environmental perspective, conservation agriculture is a focused area of agricultural research in Nepal. The ministry has conducted the researches on the gene bank, in-situ and ex-situ conservation of plants and animals, mulching method, use of zero tillage and minimum tillage technology, trial on heat and flood-tolerant varieties, use of contour farming techniques in hilly areas, production and multiplication of beneficial insect and pests, conservation of local seeds and breeds, promotion of indigenous technologies, and developing a sustainable land use management plan are some of the examples carried out by the research system. In addition, the such as promotion of boro-rice cultivation practices, use of direct rice seeding technology, system of rice intensification (SRI) method and on-farm water management practices have contributed to reducing methane emissions in nature.

Organic farming
The ministry has been promoting the organic farming practices for many years. The establishment of a central level organic centre has been proposed recently. In addition, implementation of the Nepal Gap, promotion of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, use of Farmers Field School (FFHs) as an extension tool, the establishment of climate-smart village, and promotion of local indigenous seeds, breeds, and farmers’ knowledge in the agriculture sector are some of the interventions that have taken place at the field level activities. Further, Rapid Bioassay of Pesticide Residues (RBPR) testing has been continued in the major agricultural markets. A survey and surveillance protocol of major disease and insect pests has been prepared.
Finally, it is very important to discourage people from burning plant residues and cow dungs, overusing chemical pesticides, burning wood for fuel, using electric shock for killing fishes, practicing the slash-and-burn agriculture and over-exploiting of natural resources. They should be encouraged to adopt the alternate means of practices to preserve the ecosystem.

(Sapkota is a senior agriculture economist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD), Nepal)