Nepali farmers adopt new practices, but only for a short timeFarmers go back to their old ways once the development project and experts leave.
Agriculture still plays a vital role in Nepal’s economy, despite the growing number of people going abroad to work. Around 70 percent of the Nepali workforce is involved in the agriculture sector. It is also a priority sector for Nepal’s development partners, with almost every donor ploughing millions into it. However, the question is whether the activities and interventions they have designed and introduced will address its problems.
Development projects broadly work in introducing or piloting new methods, tools and technologies in agriculture to increase the income of farmers; for example, introducing tunnel farming, drip irrigation, shed management and improved variety of seeds, among others. While each project has its own focus, there are common key issues which affect almost all projects regardless of how they are trying to achieve the goal of helping farmers. The issue of adoption and continuation of methods, tools and technologies haunts all projects.
While implementing projects, the implementer and donor partners frequently monitor activities to see their adoption by farmers and integrate the feedback into their scheme. During monitoring, the stakeholders observe the farmers following the methods and using the tools and technologies. And even while interacting, the farmers vouch for the effectiveness of such tools and technologies. Upon positive confirmation by the farmers, the stakeholders become satisfied. However, everything changes once the project leaves. Although the entire checklist of the adaptability of introducing new tools and technologies are ticked, and the farmers affirm that they are satisfied, they subsequently go on to question the new approach and do not continue practising them after some time.
Development practitioners need to understand why the farmers started following new methods, tools and technologies. Farmers are an active part of the market, and make decisions like any corporate entity. Like all entrepreneurs, farmers want to cut down on their operating or input cost and seek convenience in doing so. During the project period, the risk associated with the initial investment and operational cost in trying new things decreases, and in some cases, are non-recurring. This gives impetus to farmers as they do not risk losing their investment. Hence, when the project offers free stuff or provides subsidies, it automatically decreases the cost of inputs.
Additionally, the project support mechanism available within the community motivates farmers to try new ideas on a small scale. In some instances, farmers continue following the techniques they were taught. However, longevity isn’t there. As soon as some farmers experience a drawback, many discontinue the new practice.
Let’s take an example of a project introducing tunnel farming in a community. The farmers of the community will continue farming in tunnels built by the project only as long as they are usable. Re-investment by the farmers in the tunnel after it has been so severely damaged that it cannot be used or when they can no longer reap benefits from it is questionable. The reason is the scale of the targeted farmers. Many project targeted farmers are small scale/holder farmers whose extra earnings generated by activities is used for daily household needs. So, there is no capital saved to invest in a new tunnel even when they want to continue practising new methods of farming.
Besides these issues, farmers don't see any significant difference while changing the techniques (especially in terms of yield) as promised by the project. Even when the yield is better, the cost incurred due to higher input prices and cost uncertainty doesn’t assure smaller farmers to risk investing again after the project ends. Basically, many farmers believe that the return remains similar to what they were used to doing.
Another key issue lies in the approach of many projects who would directly deliver seeds or services to farmers. While doing so, the project tends to disregard the linkage with permanent actors who are present in the market, and who will remain active even when the project phases out or moves out of the area.
Availability of seeds
There are lots of instances where farmers wish to plant the seeds introduced by the project but do not know where to buy them or find them. The same situation also prevails when farmers cannot retain seeds from the previous harvest due to various reasons. This kind of scenario arises because the project does not focus on establishing or strengthening the linkage of farmers with seed suppliers and retailers. Even when farmers find the place to buy seeds in the market, they may not be of the same quality or variety. The issue of the supply of quality seeds needs a separate discussion.
The higher risk associated with the rate of return has also hindered people from using techniques whose operational costs are high. The risk involved at every step of farming, like irrigation, seeds, labour and market, discourages farmers from practising agriculture in a commercial way. Even if all these issues were to be tackled, will farmers adapt to new changes in agriculture? In short, no, as one elderly farmer in Kaski said, ‘As long as we have increased access to alternative income sources which could be enough to feed us, we will not take greater risks in cultivating our own land.’
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