Reports of snow coming early to the Himalayas this year brings back memories of snow whirling in gusts around us as we visited the village of Thade in Siddhicharan municipality, Nepal. Thade lies at some 2,700m, and experiences considerable seasonal weather extremes – exacerbated by the effects of climate change. It was in February 2019 that we made our late afternoon visit to a farmer’s group, mainly comprising young women of the Magar community. Men were largely absent - working in other parts of Nepal or beyond. The main crop in the area is potatoes, and in collaboration with the National Agriculture Research Council (NARC) and the Agriculture Knowledge Centre (AKC) of Okhaldunga, the women had been testing out different varieties and cultivation techniques adapted to changing climatic conditions. We crowded into a draughty, poorly heated little wooden house to be shown the first harvest. The women were pleased, overall, with the results of their new cultivation techniques. As Budha Maya Magar pointed out, potatoes are their main source of livelihood – complemented by any cash sent home by their menfolk.
Budha Maya Magar, Farmer's group member, Siddhicharan Municipality
It is people like Budha Maya who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the Nepal Agricultural Services Development Program, NASDP or Prayas, a bilateral project of the Government of Nepal and Switzerland (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), to which Helvetas provided technical assistance. As described in previous blogs, this project has worked on building the capacities of local governments (municipalities and rural municipalities) in providing agriculture services to their citizens. It has also sought to facilitate the harmonization of such services between government bodies engaged in agriculture at the three tiers of federalized government – local, provincial and federal (national). The example of the potato farmers group is a good one in this respect, as Prayas played an important coordination role between scientists of NARC, a federal agency; the AKC under provincial authority; and the agriculture and livestock development section of the local government.
Agriculture Under the Federal System
Facilitating and coordinating might not sound a very demanding task, but it is important to ensure that synergies are built, and duplication avoided, between the three tiers of the new federal system - the implementation of which only began in late 2017. Nevertheless, Prayas focused its work at local level, given that responsibility for agriculture extension (both crop and livestock) has been devolved exclusively to local governments. Previously, agriculture extension was organized at district level, covering a much larger area – which meant that farmers living far from the district centers were generally poorly served.
When first elected, most local government representatives had a limited understanding of the agriculture sector and tended (at least at the beginning) to give it little priority – preferring to focus on infrastructure projects. In addition, there were many delays in the deployment of government staff to rural areas, meaning that most municipalities and rural municipalities had little technical support. Prayas worked with 61 local governments in total, spread across provinces 1, 3 (Bagmati) and 6 (Karnali).
Lessons of Experience
Prayas has now officially closed, but the experiences that it generated have been documented in a series of eight Briefing Notes. These take the reader through the process of supporting a local government in building up the agricultural extension services it provides to its citizens. Many of these inter-linking steps – such as establishing a policy and legal framework, ensuring adequate budgetary provision, mobilizing funds from different sources, ensuring cohesive planning, tracking expenditure, monitoring and evaluating activities – are broadly common to other sectors and could therefore be of wider interest than to agriculturalists alone.
Apart from ensuring broad understanding and ownership amongst elects and staff of local governments in the development of agriculture extension services, Prayas encouraged them to make special provision for their most disadvantaged citizens, especially women, Dalits and ethnic minorities. Budha Maya Magar and her fellow farmer group members are one such example. Happily, they managed to further increase their harvest this year. The project also emphasized the need for local governments to avoid trying to control service provision, and instead create an environment conducive to a wide variety of actors: trained local resource persons, private sector suppliers of seed and other inputs, traders in agricultural products, and others as appropriate - including NARC and provincial AKCs. It is only through the existence of such multiple service providers that a sustainable agriculture support system, offering choice to farmers, can be ensured.
Not all the local governments supported through Prayas have reached the same level of organization or understanding. Some are already fully confident in supporting agricultural services within their territory; others still need time. However, the experiences generated can be shared, and it is hoped that inter-municipal exchanges in this respect, which have already begun in certain areas, will continue to grow.
To Read Further
The Briefing Notes may be downloaded as follows: