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Eight out of ten Nepalese depend on farming. However, the agroecological conditions, especially in the foothills of the Himalayas, are challenging. In recent years, ICRISAT's research has focused on crop improvement, especially in legumes like chickpea, and better farming practices to boost small farm productivity. Better linkages to markets and nurturing agribusiness are also an ongoing field of collaboration with the Nepalese research and development community.

89% - Farms in Nepal that are uneconomical (Bourai et al.)

62% - Fall in chickpea area in Nepal (1995- 2010) due to pod borer, botrytis and other pests (Croplife Foundation, 2012)

3.46 t/ha - Maximum yield of chickpea variety Kalika in Nepal under irrigation compared to the current average yield of 600 kg/ha (ref: ICCV 82108)

90% - Pigeonpea area in Dang district of Nepal planted with sterility mosaic- and wilt-resistant variety ICP 7035 (IFAD 954 final report)


General context

Landlocked between India and China, and home to the highest mountains, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country is struggling to lift the large share of its population out of poverty; 44% live in the multiple poverty index. Political instability following a decade-long Maoist insurrection and ousting of the monarchy worsened the situation.

Nepal has a flourishing tourism industry but faces problems of deforestation and encroachment and degradation of animal habitats. About 80% of the population depends on agriculture, which generates more than a third of the GDP. Nine farms out of ten are too small to make a decent living. Foreign aid is vital to the economy, and Nepal is also heavily dependent on trade with neighbouring India.

Nepal has three distinct agroecological zones depending on the topography. The sub-tropical lowlands of the Terai, bordering India, have the best agricultural potential. Rice is the main crop but pulses, wheat, barley and oilseeds are also grown, as well as some jute, tobacco, indigo and opium. In the densely populated temperate hill regions, rice and maize are grown in the summer season, and wheat, barley and vegetables in winter. Mustard, grown for its oil and used in cooking, is another important crop. Higher still, in the mountains of the sparsely populated north, crops are limited to potatoes, barley and buckwheat, with yaks providing meat, milk and wool.

Climate change and population growth have worsened the food security situation for the rural poor. Melting of glaciers is impacting the seasonal water supply and there is also an increased risk of flooding. Deforestation and erosion of topsoil also reduces crop yields. Better management of watershed resources through community-based organizations is therefore crucial for the livelihoods of most Nepalese families. Recurrent droughts force many farming families to sell their assets.

Chronic malnutrition among children is among the worst in Asia, especially in mountainous areas.

ICRISAT research in Nepal

ICRISAT's current research in Nepal is focusing on chickpea and millet improvement, and more broadly harnessing the potential of legumes in the country's farming systems, as well as understanding the drivers for farmers to adopt agricultural innovations and adapt to climate change.

Chickpea is one of the most important grain legumes in Nepal, and an integral part of diets, where it serves as a major source of protein. It has great potential in Nepal, especially in large areas of rice fallows. However, recurrent crop damage from the pod borer and botrytis grey mold, a devastating chickpea disease, and other pests, have led to a sharp decline in production. Integrated pest management using an appropriate set of technologies and practices (such as pest-tolerant varieties like Avarodhi or fusarium wilt-resistant kalika, fungicides and pesticides, and wider row spacing), has positively impacted on family nutrition and income.

Pigeonpea is another important legume grown in Nepal. Many farmers grow it as pest-resistant and high-yielding varieties are made available through farmer varietal trials and village-level seed production.

Impact of farmer participatory research is carefully monitored like the case study of BG 1442 rice variety, to enhance adoption of improved seeds and other agricultural innovations.

Finger millet, known as Koddo, is cultivated at the foothills of the Himalayas for its nutritive value and adaptation to high altitude conditions. Millet, the second most important cereal crop after rice in the uplands, also plays an important role as it is fermented and made into traditional alcoholic beverages such as rakshi.

The lack of market access penalizes small farms and is a major constraint to improving their productivity. ICRISAT's Indian experience in incubating agribusiness that benefit smallholder farmers is therefore valuable for Nepal. 

Integrated pest management has had a huge impact on chickpea farmers.
Pigeonpea is a multipurpose legume crop crucial for Nepalese farmers.Stalks are used as firewood while protein-rich grain improves family nutrition.
Improved pigeonpea varieties are promoted through farmer varietal trials and village seed production. In Dang district, pest-resistant ICP 7035 variety covers 90% of pigeonpea fields.