© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen

Riverbed Vegetables

© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen

With Helvetas’ support, landless families in Nepal are using riverbeds to cultivate vegetables during the dry season, when the river waters have reduced in volume. The income from the sale of their produce provides a stepping stone out of poverty.

  • Project Name
    Riverbed Farming: Farming Vegetable in Riverbeds
  • Project Phase
    2017 to 2024
  • Funding
    Donations, contributions, SDC programme contribution
  • Thematic focus
    Private Sector Development
    Food & Nutrition

Dry riverbeds transformed into vegetable beds

In the year 2000, Nepal abolished bonded labor and debt servitude. Despite this major step forward, the lives of the men and women freed under law did not automatically improve. They had no assets – and crucially, no land. In the plains of Nepal, they joined other landless families, especially members of the indigenous Tharu people, in living in extreme poverty. Thousands of such families have now built a solid livelihood with the support of the Riverbed Farming project.

The key to this transformation was recognising the dry season potential of riverbeds, and facilitating access to such land by landless men and women. Much of the riverbed land is owned by local authorities. Helvetas negotiated with them a lease agreement – giving families the right, for a small fee, to farm a riverbed plot for up to four years.

Many of the lease holders are women whose husbands are absent on labour migration. Our agricultural specialists trained local resource persons (LRPs) from the same community and advised them on what plants to grow, and provide seeds and tools as well as access to microcredit. The LRPs demonstrated the special cultivation techniques needed for establishing plants in sandy soils, and how to produce compost to improve organic matter content. During the first month, the young plants must be watered by hand with water drawn from the river. After that their roots run deep enough to reach the damp subsoil.

© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen
During the dry season, landless people use the wide riverbeds in the Nepalese lowlands to grow vegetables. © Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen
© Helvetas
Seasonal vegetable cultivation ensures the livelihood of the poorest families. © Helvetas
© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen
The planting of the beds is labor-intensive and compost must be dug into the sandy soil. © Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen
© Helvetas
The remaining water of the river is used for watering the plants. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
Vegetables such as pumpkins or melons are particularly suitable for cultivation in dry riverbeds. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
Farmers learn from the local instructor what they have to pay attention to during cultivation to ensure a good harvest. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
The plants have to be watered at first, but later on the plants draw the water with their roots from the deeper wet layers of soil. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
Rupa Chaudhary can harvest her vegetables in the dry season, a season when good prices are obtained on the market. © Helvetas

The families eat some of the vegetables that they grow, and thus improve their nutrition. However, they sell most of their produce at local and regional markets – obtaining good prices because the vegetables are grown during the dry season, when supplies of fresh produce are reduced. Generally, the first investment they make is in their children’s education. Once the families realise the potential earning from vegetables, the men often return from migration to help with the cultivation and marketing. By their fourth year of riverbed farming, the families are expected to have made enough savings to buy their own land or small business. They give up their lease, making room for new landless families.

In total, some 8,500 landless families have been supported through the Riverbed Farming Project. The concept is a huge success, and has been replicated by other organisations – which have come together with Helvetas to form the Riverbed Farming Alliance. The alliance is now working to promote the concept across the country, interacting with both the national and sub national governments as well as universities and other teaching institutions.

© Helvetas/Simon B. Opladen
«Most of us have no land of our own. But since we’ve been using the Mohana riverbed in the dry season, even us landless folks can sell vegetables.»

Rupa Chaudhary, (24), a riverbed farmer and beneficiary of this Helvetas project, is planning to send her two small children to a good school later on.

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