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Agroecology can heal Nepal’s ailing farm sector

Agroecology can heal Nepal’s ailing farm sector

Like the rest of the world, Nepal faces numerous crises such as rising temperatures, wildfires, lack of drinking water malnutrition and a range of flood and drought occurrences. Records kept at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority show that 1,434 incidents of fire and forest fire were recorded in April-May, a period characterized by the highest number of fire incidents, causing 27 deaths and leaving 86 people injured. 

Additionally, cancer patients have been increasing by the day due to factors like improper use of chemicals and fertilizers. 

On one hand, farmers cannot transplant paddy due to lack of rainfall, while on the other, heavy rains destroy rice crops ready for harvest. Apart from rising temperatures, other factors like high input costs, wild animals on rampage, climate change and unfair share in agricultural products exert pressure on farmers to abandon farming. In order to deal with these contemporary crises, we need to increase our comparative advantage in production systems with the main focus on agroecology.


Agroecology is agriculture integrated with ecology. A production system in harmony with nature, it transcends the traditional practices of tillage, planting, cultivation, harvesting and marketing. Agroecology, according to Stephen R Gliessman, is not just limited to farming practices but deals with the whole chain of interactions among crops, soil organisms and insect pests, their natural enemies as well as environmental conditions and management decisions.

In conventional agricultural systems, there exists a clear distinction between agriculture and nature. In such systems, inorganic fertilizers and pesticides added into soil for increased productivity put microorganisms like bacteria and earthworms at risk, decreasing soil’s ability to rejuvenate. Soil scientist Claude Bourguignon however argues that soil, despite being life’s basis, is simply a substratum. Increased reliance on fossil fuels for agricultural operations and other efforts toward commercialization and modernization of the farm sector disrupts the natural rhythm of production. Furthermore, market forces through liberalization or trade also affect food agriculture dynamics.

Put together, agriculture, forestry and other land use amount to 22 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions with transportation adding a further 15 percent, according to some studies. It is an established fact that the production-centric traditional agricultural systems contribute enormously to greenhouse gas emissions and have low adaptive capacity to climate change.

Nepal is going through its hottest summer on record along with increased forest fires. A contrasting scenario is where severe droughts in winter have resulted in massive crop failure while the highest ever recorded rainfall has led to flood causing a significant loss of matured crops. Water shortage has gotten worse in the Tarai region with depletion of groundwater resources. 

Incidents of landslides and floods have been rising and our study indicates that 80 percent of Nepal’s population is vulnerable to climate-induced hazards. Notably, Climate Risk Indexes (CRI) identifies Nepal as the 10th most affected country worldwide with marginalized communities, women and farmers forming a group highly susceptible to climate change impacts.


Subsistence agriculture constitutes a significant feature of our production system, with the exchange of surplus being a major characteristic. The key features of subsistence agriculture include mixed farming, proper integration of livestock, agriculture and forests as well as growing for consumption. Our traditional agricultural practices were diverse, exchange-based and synergetic. However, the introduction of monoculture, chemicals, pesticides and corporate-controlled seeds in the name of commercialization, production and development has made the entire agricultural system more vulnerable to climate change. Increased production costs resulting from this practice has forced small-scale farmers to leave farming altogether, exacerbating food insecurity.

Despite constitutional provisions on sustainable agricultural practices and on the integration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the government’s policies and programs, our main policy documents, including annual plans, policies and budgets prioritize chemicals-based farming practices instead of incorporating agroecology into climate adaptation and tourism development or supporting farmers to stay on their farms.

The policies and programs for the fiscal year 2024-25, presented recently in the Parliament, list “increase in power generation and creation of a more conducive environment for investment” as some of the major achievements of the incumbent government. The focus, at least on paper, is also on delivery of fertilizers and seeds on time, and on expanding irrigation services. 

The policy document of the government pledges to increase agricultural investments, attain food self-sufficiency in vegetables and main staple crops, provide insurance coverage for agri-products, apart from promising minimum support price (MSP), farmer cards and emphasizing a productivity-centered modern industrial agriculture, but these pledges are “old wine in a new bottle”.

This document does not seem to bother much about agroecology, which is about promoting organic farming, biodiversity protection, natural farming and indigenous crops. 

It supports organic agriculture and indigenous crop production only for business purposes, which goes against the principle of agroecology. Additionally, there is a provision to provide quality chemical fertilizers for sustainable soil quality management, a practice akin to administering poison to a patient.

Summing up, agroecology can help solve several problems plaguing the farm sector like food insecurity, climate crisis, desertion of farmers due to increased cost of production, increasing import of foodgrains and agricultural goods, decrease in soil fertility due to input-intensive agriculture and increased use of chemical fertilizers. Let this fact dawn on our leaders, policymakers and bureaucrats before it’s too late.