Community irrigation systems are being repaired in villages across Nepal, yielding better harvests and bigger incomes for tens of thousands of farming families.

Ghunsa, Nepal – This year, Nepal will consume 72,000 tons more food than its farmers can produce.

The primary reason for the food deficit: poor irrigation.

About 70% of Nepal’s 1.28 million hectares of irrigated farmland are fed by small farmer-managed systems that distribute water unevenly and waste huge volumes. The result in many areas is small harvests that make it hard for family farms to survive.

But in the remote district of Solukhumbu, in eastern Nepal, the story of leaky irrigation systems and struggling farmers is changing.

Preparing for a bumper crop

In the village of Ghunsa, Solukhumbu district, the steep hill slopes are covered in deep green. Seventy four farming families in the village are growing rice and vegetables on about 75 hectares of fully irrigated land. Unlike many farm areas in Nepal, there are no dry patches of land, no cracks in the soil, no stunted plants. The village is preparing for a bumper crop this year.

Their success is thanks to the farmer-managed Ghatte-Thotne irrigation system.

“With the increased income I send my son to a good school in the district headquarters of Salleri and my daughter to a college in the capital city of Kathmandu.”

Yubaraj Rai

Until a few years back, the Ghatte-Thotne system was in a sorry state. Farmers diverted water from the Ghatte and Thotne streams through boulders and brush wood to leaky earthen canals that could barely irrigate 17 hectares.

"We could hardly support our families throughout the year with the produce from our farms," said Yubaraj Rai, a farmer in the area. "Those were difficult times."

The system was upgraded by strengthening the irrigation canals with concrete and making other improvements that increased the flow of water to farms while preventing leaks. The work was done through a partnership between the Government of Nepal, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and OPEC Funds for International Development, as part of the Community-Managed Irrigated Agriculture Sector Project.

The project rehabilitated 111 farmer-managed irrigation systems that benefitted more than 178,000 farmers with nearly 16,000 hectares of irrigated land in 35 districts of central and eastern Nepal.

Dramatic impact on productivity

The improvements have had a dramatic impact on productivity. In Ghunsa, farmers report the production of rice, corn, potatoes, and other vegetables has more than doubled, while wheat yield has quadrupled.

"Now I make nearly 100 thousand rupees ($930) more a year," said Yubaraj Rai. "With the increased income, I send my son to a good school in the district headquarters of Salleri and my daughter to a college in the capital city of Kathmandu."

In addition, the increased water running through the irrigation canals is being used to generate electricity that powers mills to grind grains and husk rice, as well as provide electricity to households.

"The time we spent in grinding grains and husking rice has been used for taking care of children and cattle and doing income generating work," said Maiti-Shova Rai of nearby Tingla Village. "With power in the evening, we can make bamboo baskets or sew clothes. Children can do their homework and read late into the night."

The government, ADB, and the OPEC Fund are now implementing the second phase of the project, which will improve another 155 irrigation systems covering almost 20,000 hectares of land.

Arjun Kumal is a Senior External Relations Officer in ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission. Learn more about ADB’s work in Nepal and like our Resident Mission on Facebook.