Sustainable agriculture kits for terrace farmers in Nepal

October 03, 2018
A woman in Nepal uses a corn sheller to save time and reduce the physical toll of her work.
IDRC / Roshan Pudasaini,

The livelihoods of more than 13 million Nepalese are dependent on farming small terraced plots in remote hilly and mountainous regions where crop yields are low and food insecurity is high. The narrow terraces require planting and weeding by hand — time-consuming and tedious work that typically falls to women. The inaccessibility of these locations and the limited distribution networks in the region limit the impact of existing development projects. Government extension workers and NGOs have only been able to reach hundreds of farmers, yet there are millions of needy households.

Research highlights

  • A sustainable model that enables farmers to select what they need from a commercial menu of low-cost agronomic practices, simple tools, and locally approved seeds.
  • A proven business case for selling products that piggybacks onto existing retail distribution networks (e.g., local agrovet stores and snackfood dealers).
  • Higher adoption of innovations using demonstration plots, farmer trials, picture books, and illustrated flyers.

Farming solutions

There are three broad challenges encountered in terrace farming: female drudgery, food production, and sustainability. The Nepal Terrace Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture Kits (SAKNepal) project tested an innovative public-private model to scale up low-cost and regionally relevant sustainable agriculture kits (SAKs) to address these limitations.

SAKs are comprised of a selection of field-tested agronomic practices, simple tools, and locally approved seeds designed to sustainably boost yields, create better working conditions for women, and help farmers cope with climate change.
 

Distribution has traditionally been a major challenge in these remote regions, so the business model piggy-backed on existing networks with established local retailers such as snack vendors to sell SAK products. Farmers simply visit their local vendor to purchase the innovations they deem to be most useful to them in their daily lives.

One of the most popular technologies — sold to tens of thousands of farmers across the country — is a low-cost handheld corn sheller that removes kernels from cobs 70% faster and with less damage than can be achieved by hand.“We used to shell maize with our hands... the skin around my nails used to peel off and blisters would appear. Now with a corn sheller… we can shell 17.5 kgs of maize within half an hour, whereas it took 2-2.5 hours to do so by traditional methods,” said Kumari Dallakoti, a female farmer. Another popular item is community millet threshers, which cut threshing times by 75%. In both cases these technologies reduced the physical strain on women, which encouraged more men to participate in these traditionally female tasks.

More than 60,000 smallholder farming households (approximately 260,000 people) in nine districts in central Nepal have benefitted from the tools and recommended practices in SAKs. Almost 65,000 farmers (79% of them women) are actively putting these practices to use.

Communicating best practices

A local shopkeeper sells SAK products in Kaski, Nepal.
IDRC / Roshan Pudasaini

Sharing information and best farming practices in the region is a challenge because subsistence agriculture communities often suffer from high levels of illiteracy, especially among women. To overcome this challenge, SAKNepal developed an almost 200-page picture book — one of the world’s most comprehensive — that illustrates sustainable practices like intercropping and weed control.

One of the most popular practices, intercropping legumes with maize, millets, wheat, and mustard, has increased farmers’ net income by 33-137%. New techniques for growing high-protein legumes and micro-nutrient rich vegetables on underused terrace walls has also increased the incomes of families, benefitting more than 173,000 people.

What’s next

Post-project feedback surveys revealed that sales are continuing and the commercial component of the project (sales of SAK tools and seeds) is now self-sustaining. The SAK model, notably its picture books and distribution approach, will allow the product and agronomic innovations to be scaled up as a franchise model to improve the productivity and sustainability of subsistence farmers worldwide, especially women and girls. Five versions of the picture book were adapted for farmer needs on different continents and they are available online for free download.  

The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund is jointly funded by Global Affairs Canada and IDRC.

Learn more about this project and its outcomes.