- Rehabilitation of farmers-managed irrigation systems in Nepal has led to economic benefits to the poor, vulnerable and marginal farmers.
- Year-round farming has become a reality because of the construction of permanent intake and irrigation canals.
- Sufficient availability of water in the irrigation system helped farmers shift to commercial farming from one crop cultivation.
- Women farmers have assumed leadership positions in water users’ association and make important decisions.
“I have renovated my house, have clean drinking water supply connection and send my children to a good school,” says Narayan Prasad Subedi, a farmer from Makwanpur District in central Nepal. “Moreover, I even manage to save money at the end of the year - all thanks to the three-fold increase in agricultural productivity of my land.”
Narayan Prasad Subedi is the chairperson of the water users’ association of the Bhundrung Irrigation System. He is also one of the 471 farmers in Bhundrung Village who has benefited from the Community-Managed Irrigated Agriculture Sector Project–Additional Financing (CMIASP–AF) supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Government of Nepal, and the OPEC Fund. The Bhudrung irrigation system rehabilitated at a cost of $87,000 in 2016 is one of the 155 farmers-managed irrigation systems rehabilitated by CMIASP-AF in the eastern and central Nepal since 2014 at a cost of $68.80 million. The upgraded systems now provide efficient, reliable, and flexible irrigation services to the farmers and has contributed significantly in increasing the agricultural productivity, food security, and income.
“I have renovated my house, have clean drinking water supply connection and send my children to a good school. Moreover, I even manage to save money at the end of the year - all thanks to the three-fold increase in agricultural productivity of my land.”
Agriculture plays a key role in Nepal’s economy, contributing 27% of gross domestic product in 2019, engaging 55% of the country’s working age population (above 15 years) in subsistence agriculture. However, Nepal’s agriculture sector suffers from low productivity, one of the main reasons being insufficient irrigation and heavy dependence on the monsoon rain.
“We used to suffer from either shortage of water or flooding and yet we had no option but to depend on the unreliable rainfall for our farming. The annual floods and droughts frequently spoilt our productivity”, says Subedi. “Our irrigation systems were more than 5 decades old, dilapidated, and had significant water loss during conveyance due to seepage. We had to spend considerable time every monsoon to construct temporary dam using fallen logs and stones to divert whatever little water we could get into the system.”
As farming lasted only one season, most farmers including Subedi had to look for other sources of income.
But those days are now gone. Year-round farming has become a reality because of the construction of a permanent intake and canals which has helped ensure maximum water diversion and smooth conveyance to the farmlands with minimal seepage loss. Sufficient availability of water in the system made it possible to add 25-hectare command area irrigating 45 hectares benefiting a total of 90 households in the village.
Shift to lucrative commercial farming
The project also helped the farmers shift from subsistence-based paddy cultivation as the single crop a year to an intensive commercial vegetable farming growing four crops a year - increasing the cropping intensity from 91% to 276%. The production of winter vegetables increased from 9 to 28 ton per hectare, spring vegetables from 11 to 30 ton per hectare, and monsoon vegetables from 12 to 31 ton per hectare.
The project built the capacity of the water users’ association in strengthening and improving the operation and maintenance of the irrigation system, and shift to commercial agriculture. Women farmers were encouraged to join water users’ association, assume leadership position and take part in decision-making.
The farmers established a water distribution mechanism to ensure equity and reliability in water use. They were able to reduce the annual cost of engaging a canal operator by one-third from $900 to $600. The improved system has reduced labor contribution of 18-20 person days/household in a year required in the past to a maximum of 2 person days.
The farmers now are busy in harvesting and selling their products. Vegetable suppliers reach their farmgate to buy their products at a competitive price agreed through collective bargaining among the farmers. As a result of high yield, the agriculture GDP per capita achieved by the subproject as of 2019 is estimated at approximately $1,500 which is far higher than the overall project target of $170 by 2026. All these conducive environment have brought confidence to the farmers like Mr. Subedi in pursuing farming as a primary occupation.
Surplus time and money
Farmers are spending more time with their families and do other household chores. Children in the community are going to better schools, most of the old houses were renovated, and each household now owns 2-3 improved breed of cows. They use vegetable remains as fodder, cow dung as compost, and urine as natural pesticide- benefiting the environment and saving money by decreasing the use of chemical fertilizer.
“The project like CMIASP-AF has demonstrated that the rehabilitation of small and medium-scale farmers-managed irrigation systems can lead to immediate and lasting economic benefits to the poor, vulnerable and marginal farmers with transformational improvements in their livelihood and food security"
With inflow of income, the farmers have started a community-based saving and credit group. Intensive vegetable cultivation and livestock husbandry have created a demand of 30,000 person-days of annual on-farm labor, who are hired from the neighboring villages.
“I am known as a ‘star’ vegetable grower in the community as my produce has increased manifold since the water became available,” says Umesh Mainali, a small-holder farmer who could barely make ends meet in the past but has now started to earn $13,000 annually from selling his farm products. He also owns 5 improved breed of cows and earns $7.5 per day by selling milk. He utilizes his income for household expenses (food, clothing, health, and education of two children) and saves around $3,000 annually. .
“The project like CMIASP-AF has demonstrated that the rehabilitation of small and medium-scale farmers-managed irrigation systems can lead to immediate and lasting economic benefits to the poor, vulnerable and marginal farmers with transformational improvements in their livelihood and food security" says Mukhtor Khamudkhanov, ADB Country Director for Nepal.
About 16,000 farmers-managed irrigation systems in the country are in need of rehabilitation. There is a huge demand from the farmers and the government to continue medium-scale farmers-managed irrigation system rehabilitation projects like CMIASP-AF.
This case study was written by Deepak B. Singh, Senior Environment Officer, at ADB's Nepal Resident Mission.