Dry winter causes crop failures in most of BajhangWinter crops production was down by over 90 percent in most farmlands this year, according to officials.
Last year around this time, Sher Bahadur Khati and his family members were busy harvesting winter crops. The farming household from Ward No 2 of Thalara Rural Municipality would start harvesting wheat, barley and lentils from mid-March. But this spring, they find themselves idling away, says Khati.
“We had cultivated winter crops in around 25 ropanis of farmland but the exceptionally prolonged drought this year has left us with a barren field,” said Khati.
Over 400 farmers in Bagada, Karalkada, Dhanada, Katra, Beradi, Ainbada, Dangaji and Tetibada of the rural municipality rely on rainwater to irrigate their farmlands. Like Khati, most farmers this year find themselves in a difficult situation because of the long dry spell.
“My fields have dried up completely in the last few months. Most of the seeds sowed in the field did not germinate. Germination should have begun by the start of the winter season but insufficient rains did not let that happen this year,” said Khati.
“We used to harvest a minimum of 30 to 40 sacks of food grains. But it seems we won’t even be able to make hay this year,” he said.
According to Ganesh Sayar, a farmer in Dangaji, Thalara has not witnessed even its regular amount of rainfall since September last year.
“We sowed seeds in our fields hoping for rainfall in January or February. But even those months were dry compared to the previous years,” Sayar said.
A recent study conducted by a team of the Sudurpaschim Food Right Network showed that 90 percent of farmers in Bajhang district could not harvest winter crops this season.
“Our study found that winter crops in Bajhang dried up due to the prolonged drought between September and February. The farmlands, without an irrigation system, have been greatly affected by drought this year,” said Bal Bahadur Rokaya, the coordinator of the team.
According to the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Bajhang, the production of winter crops has fallen by over 90 percent in most farmlands of the district this year, except in the ones near rivers and streams.
Out of the 15,562 hectares of arable land in the district, 6,224 hectares did not yield any crop this season, the data at the centre showed. The data also revealed that winter crops worth around Rs 326.7 million were destroyed due to this year’s drought.
Tek Bahadur Bista, chief at the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Bajhang, said only 35 percent of the farmland in Bajhang has access to irrigation.
“The crops grown in lands not connected with irrigation channels have been greatly affected due to the drought this year,” said Bista.
Farmers in Jaya Prithvi and Bangul municipalities and Biththadchir, Kedarasiyun, Durgathali, Chhabispathibhera, Khaptadchhana, Surma, Masta, Talkot and Saipal rural municipalities also reported crop failure.
“In the winter, the germinated seeds dried up due to a lack of humidity. We could not grow crops properly this season,” said Bharat Kami, a farmer of Kailash in Jayprithvi Municipality.
According to him, he used to harvest around 10 to 15 quintals of food grains such as wheat, barley and lentil crops every year.
“But this season, we won’t be able to harvest even a quintal [100 kg] of food grains,” said Kami. “This is the first time we have faced such a dry winter.”
After the crops dried up completely, some of the farmers in the district took their livestock for grazing out on the farmlands while some set controlled fires on the plantations.
“Around 350 families faced a complete crop failure this season. Villagers fed the dead plants to their cattle while some set controlled fires to clear the land,” said Indra Budha, a local resident of Lekgaun in Chhabispathibhera.
According to the records at the Agriculture Knowledge Centre, the district produces 32,000 metric tonnes of food grains a year.
“Bajhang faces a shortage of 7,000 metric tonnes of food grains every year. This year, the figure could go up to around 13,500 tonnes,” said Bista, chief at the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Bajhang. “The local and provincial governments should come up with effective programmes to address the problem immediately. The areas with no productivity should be declared drought-affected zones and the affected farmers should be provided relief packages.”
The centre is planning to ask the local, provincial and federal governments to set up necessary infrastructure such as irrigation channels and modern marketing infrastructure to help the farmers.
“All three levels of the government should include these programmes in their policy and programme to address the problems faced by the district’s farmers,” said Bista.