Climate crisis is brewing in farming belt

Shankar Prasad Khanal

Shankar Prasad Khanal

Climate crisis is brewing in farming belt

Farmers are lurching from one climate-related disaster to the next, and the government is not addressing their problem in a right manner

Farmers of Narainapur in Banke district suffered heavy loss after unseasonal rains destroyed their harvest-ready paddies last October. It took just a few days of downpour to down the rice plants standing ripe on 3,600 hectares of land. The damage was assessed at Rs 57m but the government announced an assistance package of only Rs 20m.

Distribution of the pledged relief started only a couple of weeks ago.

Narainapur farmers are not optimistic about this year’s harvest either. Only 15 percent of rice fields here saw plantation this season because of late rainfall.

Local government officials say the farmers are already staring at a crisis. The District Disaster Management Committee, Banke, has already declared Narainapur as a drought-stricken area and asked the provincial and federal governments to come to the farmers’ rescue.

Finance Minister Janardan Sharma recently visited the farming community of Narainapur and promised them federal emergency relief.

Narainapur’s problem mirrors the challenge faced by thousands of farmers throughout Banke, says Rupan Gyawali, of District Emergency Operation Center.

“Nearly 40,000 farmers in all eight local units of Banke were affected by unseasonal rains last year, ” says Gyawali. “We had requested the federal assistance for at least Rs 387m to support the farmers, but got only Rs 100m.”

To date, only 36 percent of the federal aid has been distributed. Farmers in Raptisonari, Kohalpur and Baijanath rural municipalities are still awaiting the aid that was announced last year. As per government policy, an individual farmer can get no more than Rs 55,000 as disaster relief.

There are no other groups in Nepal who have been more affected by climate change than farmers. Meanwhile, the government’s lack of climate policy and unpreparedness, as well as slow response to farmers’ plight is contributing to potential food insecurity.

Sagar Dhakal, former chief at Agriculture Knowledge Center, Banke, says prolonged dry spell and unseasonal rainfall are becoming regular occurrences and farmers are facing their direct impacts.

“Our crop yields are falling, and with government complacency and delay, the situation could get worse in future,” says Dhakal.

A crisis is brewing in Nepal’s farming belt that the government is not acknowledging in a right manner. Government coming up with paltry relief packages after farmers have lost their crops to climate-related disasters is not a permanent solution.

In Bardiya district, thousands of farmers who were affected by last year’s unseasonal rains are yet to get the government pledged aid. This year, too, rain-swollen Karnali River breached its banks and damaged a large quantity of rice crop being dried out in fields after harvest in the Rajapur area of the district.

Santosh Pathak, of Agriculture Knowledge Center, Bardiya, says the damage assessment in the area has still not been conducted, and as a result, farmers there have no chance of getting government assistance anytime soon.

“Climate change-related disasters have become more frequent in Bardiya in recent years,” says Pathak. “And it is not just erratic rains and drought farmers have to contend with. They are also dealing with an increase in crop diseases.”

In Banke, rainfall arrived late and continued for an unusually long period this year. Rice planted on over 7,000 hectares of land got flooded.

The actual picture of the damage caused by this year’s rain is yet to come.

“We are still assessing the crop damage in all eight local units of the district,” says Gyawali, of the District Emergency Operation Center.

Once the assessment is complete, there will be another request to the federal and provincial governments for a relief. The affected farmers don’t know if or when that succor will arrive, as many of them are yet to get the aid for last year’s devastation.