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Opinion: Environment, Food Security & Nutrition

Getting Nepal on the Road to Resilient Recovery

Madhu Sudhan Ghimire Madhu Sudhan Ghimire

It was Saturday 25th of April 2015: a normal day when my country was celebrating the weekly public holiday. Everything was fine until an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale shook Nepal at 11:56 am local time killing thousands of people in a flash. Many more were injured, nearly half a million houses were destroyed completely and some 3.5 million people are now in need of food assistance. All sectors of the country’s economy have been hit hard by the quake, according to the US Geological Survey the economic losses could be as much as $10bn. However the sector that depends on the seasons and the natural resources – agriculture – will be worst hit.

The agriculture sector employs 70 per cent of the population affected by the earthquake, and accounts for more than 35 per cent of national GDP. The 14 affected districts account for almost 10 per cent of national output of rice, and almost 20 per cent of national output of maize. Although damage to the agriculture sector has not yet been assessed, affected families have likely lost livestock, crops, food stocks and valuable agricultural inputs. The disaster has destroyed markets and infrastructure, including roads and crucial irrigation and drainage canals. As a result, internal trade, including the movement of emergency aid, is severely constrained.

Nepal’s estimated wheat production in 2015 will now be much lower than the forecast 1.8 million tonnes. Farmers who miss the planting season that is expected to start in late May will be unable to harvest rice – the country’s staple food — until late 2016. This, together with likely losses of food stocks and wheat and maize harvests, will severely limit food supplies and incomes in the South Asian country.

Prioritising Resilient Recovery

In meeting the agricultural needs of communities, interventions should be phased and designed appropriately to support and promote resilient livelihood recovery. This means not only focusing on the effects of this earthquake, but rather having a comprehensive approach to reduce the vulnerability of households to other more frequent hazards, such as landslides, floods, droughts, pests and diseases.

The following are several areas that could be prioritized in agricultural recovery programmes to promote resilient recovery.

Seed and fertilizer availability: Seeds for millet must be made available for farmers, to avoid a further threat to household food security from October onwards. Much of the rice, maize and millet crops in storage in these districts has been destroyed, and the rice planting window is nearly over. Making good quality seed and appropriate fertilizer available to farmers in order to grow millet and vegetables which can be planted now, will be key.

Agricultural Tools, Fertilizer and Labour: The proportion of agricultural tools destroyed is particularly high in the six affected districts, and this will seriously reduce capacity for cultivation. Household access to fertilizer reduced, further threatening production prospects in the summer cropping season. A steep reduction in labour availability for agriculture is apparent as households struggle to meet more urgent shelter needs for themselves and their livestock – this must be addressed.

Shelter and veterinary services for livestock: Livestock ownership is a major contribution to agricultural livelihoods; in Nepal 80 per cent of households own animals. Up to 16 per cent of cattle and 36 per cent of poultry was lost in the quake, with many more animals injured and sick. Animal health is at risk due to lack of shelter and feed and limited access to veterinary services. Production of animal products has been reduced due to stress syndromes and deteriorated health conditions, affecting household consumption and income earning. The provision of veterinary services could combat this. Recovery of shelter, support to feed and water livestock access will need to continue beyond the next three months. Restocking of livestock will become necessary and appropriate once the health conditions of surviving animals can be guaranteed and households can access sufficient feeding.

Agricultural Infrastructure: If not repaired quickly, damage to small-scale irrigation will have significant negative consequences on crop production in the winter cropping season. Damage to Agricultural and Livestock Service Centre buildings and facilities will seriously affect the ability of extension staff to provide technical services to farmers.

Lack of funding for agriculture and inadequate manpower may hamper efforts to provide immediate support to affected populations. But the government, as well as international community, must give equal priority rural and urban areas – as it will be the rural areas producing the food for the rest of the country. We must act now to prevent a food crisis for Nepal in the future.

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