Believable climate futures explored by Nepalese farmers
by Chase Sova and Jessica Thorn
Researchers from the University of Oxford arrived in Beora, Nepal on a hot, humid day in May of this year. It was here, between the mid-hills region of Nepal and the border of India, that the team would spend the next four months working with farmers, collecting data on the tools, methods and frameworks to support climate change adaptation.
The main objective was the “Farms of the Future” (FOTF) project, an initiative designed to test how the climate analogues tool (PDF) could be used to inform decision making and improve the adaptive capacity of small-holder farmers. The Farms of the Future project is embedded in the Systemic Integrated Adaptation (SIA) research programme which conducted the research.
To give a background, the analogues tool uses downscaled temperature and precipitation predictions and current data sets to identify spatial analogues, i.e. sites with statistically similar temperature and precipitation trends, for the predicted 2030 climate of a given reference site as Beora. In the FOTF project, the analogue tool outputs were used to inform the selection of locations for farmer exchanges.
Given the uncertainties inherent in the climate analogue tool’s GCM downscaling, the researchers chose an exploratory scenarios approach to conducting the exchanges. “Plausible”, not absolute, climate scenarios and their associated exchange locations were chosen based on a combination of temperature and precipitation forecasts and socio-economic/biophysical characteristics, i.e. environmental factors such as soil quality, similarities in livelihood activities, and cropping patterns.
Prior to the exchanges, a diagnostic workshop was conducted with the reference community of Beora to identify current environmental challenges, historical responses, existing community assets and resources, and the development objectives of the community. From this brainstorming process, the community designed a series of plans to achieve the desired future state. This was accomplished through a backcasting exercise, envisioning a future that focussed on improved water conservation, crop varietal selection, soil quality, and pest management. The robustness of these plans would be tested in each of the exchange scenarios.
Training was conducted with the Beora community and members of each host community to teach them about climate change, and what it means to live with change and uncertainty. The training was designed to develop participants’ critical thinking skills, to manage risks of adopting unsustainable or undesirable features of the exchange location, and allow them to question assumptions about their future.
Three sites in Nepal were ultimately chosen to serve as exploratory scenarios, Madehe Nagar, Gardi, and Kunjiwar. They involved a variety of participatory activities including exploratory walks, seasonal mapping, climate change learning, and discussion groups.
Exploratory walks were a focus exercise of each exchange to highlight the agricultural practices and adaptation interventions in each community. Key interventions being undertaken at the exchange sites included conservation agriculture practices such as terracing, precision irrigation, intercropping, vegetable tunnels, raised and sunken beds, and silviculture. Integrated pest management, vermicomposting, bio-pesticides, and a variety of community established user groups for irrigation, electrification and women’s groups were also present.
After each farmer exchange, Beora community members revised their plans via a new backcasting process embedded in the knowledge gained and climate and development realities of each exploratory scenario, after first recognizing plausible and irreconcilable characteristics between Beora and each exchange community. For example, participants from Beora thought that it would not be feasible to use vermin-culture techniques as seen in Chitwan due to the difference in humidity and soil quality. They revisited their plans considering their new understandings about the climate future through this process of embedded learning.
To conclude the programme, a final dissemination workshop was conducted with the Beora community after the three exploratory exchanges. The original brainstorming done by the community along with the exchange experiences informed a list of interventions developed by Beora community. These included:
• A livestock rearing revolving fund;
• Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and soil quality assessment training;
• water supply management–borehole installation for off-season vegetable farming, or treadle pumps;
• A mobile non-tillage rice seed planting machine (mobile seed tiller);
• A sanitation programme;
• A reforestation project on the communal land in the centre of the village; and
• demonstration trials of three types of rice varieties–that grow on saturated land, are drought resistant, and ripen early.
Perhaps most significantly the farmer exchanges enabled them to realise the need for a community farmer group to be established, as well as connection with other organizations such as government agencies, NGOs and INGOs to be fostered. Farmers in Beora have since formed a group called Garima Farmers Group and are using seed funding to invest in Integrated Pest Management training.
Moving forward, additional research is needed to analyse the dissemination of knowledge gained from the programme within Beora and the uptake of adaptation interventions. The lessons learned from this fieldwork are also being feed back into the SIA methodology and framework in preparation for upcoming fieldwork in Ghana in early 2013.
Chase Sova is a visiting researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and a member of CCAFS Theme 1 Adaptation to Progressive climate change. Jessica Thorn is a researcher with the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at Oxford University.