Climate change is a hot topic in Nepal, with more frequent and more extreme floods and droughts and particular concern over the impact on Himalayan glaciers. The devastating earthquakes in April and May and the current constitutional crisis may have diverted attention but climate change remains a potent threat.
What do local farmers know and say about climate change and how do they feel? The CDKN study team has conducted initial site surveys to collect objective monitoring data and lead participatory studies of farmers’ perception on climate change. Five sites were visited in Sindhuli and Nuwakot districts, to understand the diversity of threats and different views held by individuals on how the climate is changing and interacting with other non-climatic changes. Many farmers recognise the complexity of these changes, and here are some of their views:
‘60 years ago, the Kamala river was a tame river with paddy cultivated land on both banks. Now many lands have been washed away leaving sand, gravels and stones behind. The river swings in a wider range.’ (Nipane, Sindhuli)
‘Temperature has been rising in the last five years and there are more hot and cold days than before.’ (Nipane, Sindhuli)
‘This year the rain came for 3 weeks later, as a result paddy transplantation was delayed. Yields will be reduced accordingly.’ (Nipane, Sindhuli)
‘Climate change is not new; we have heard about it from TV and radio as well.’(Bardautar, Sindhuli)
‘When I was a boy, there were many forests in the nearby areas, which has significantly reduced now. The reduction of forest and other human activities, including sand and stone abstraction from the river has triggered the climate change. We get less rainfall than before, about 50% less than 20-30 years ago.’ (85 years old, man. Bardautar, Sindhuli)
‘Temperature rises. 20 years ago, you wouldn’t feel that hot if you walk in the sun. But now you can’t walk in the sun for long time. In the past, there were about 6 months of warm days and another 6 months of cold days. Now we have about 9 months warm days and 3 months cold days. The frost which used to appear in the winter has not shown up for many years.’ (40 years old, man. Bardautar, Sindhuli)
‘Temperature has increased and the warmer season has extended during the last 7-8 years. Monsoon has been delayed and the time of transplanting and harvesting rice has been delayed a week as a result of this.’ (Gadkhar, Nuwakot)
Not surprisingly, the mega-earthquake is more topical than climate change: in Nuwakot, the main canal has been blocked many times by landslides after the earthquake: farmers don’t have the right resources and facilities to restore the canal. More intense rainfall as a result of climate change means that the impact of the earthquake will be felt for many years to come. Some local people say that flows in the Likhu river increased after the earthquake – but they think that is temporary and not a long term positive change.
Farmers in Nepal have been coping with many risks and devastating changes for decades, and they have been adapting their livelihoods to suit. Fifty years ago, winter wheat was a new crop which helped farmers cope as the population grew and land holdings shrank. Now that is under threat because of unreliable winter rains. But some farmers are able to respond, taking advantage of other changes; a much better road network means that more cash crops – vegetables, ginger – are possible. Climate change brings new challenges; some are able to cope but others are already abandoning their land. This study is beginning to unravel the links between numerous changes and potential responses to increase the performance and resilience of irrigation across the country.
Yi Zhang from China, Researcher on the CDKN study joined the site survey: four hours walking in paddy fields with wet shoes after crossing many rivers impressed her. ‘When you see the fields and canals, then you will understand how vulnerable they are – so different from the large systems in China. But, there are similarities in attitudes to life in China and Nepal; a bit of fatalism, a compromise between what they expect and what they have’, as Yi says after walking on a 30-meter high aqueduct.
Initial field observations are being analysed in conjunction with meteorological data and climate model results. Further field work is planned for January, and then a workshop on the early findings of the study.