Despite the pandemic, Tej Kumar Sijali Magar has been growing vegetables in his small farm in the hills of Dhankuta. Magar’s tunnel house produces both seasonal and non-seasonal organic vegetables, a source of stable income for his family. He has been selling his produce directly to various nearby cities like Dharan, Itahari, and Biratnagar, and even to Indian cities along the border.
“Earlier, we used to buy tomatoes from the market. Now, we sell them,” Magar said I had the opportunity to visit Magar recently during a routine monitoring trip. The changes that I saw in Dhankuta’s villages, all led by local farmers and local leaders, led me to reflect on how even small interventions can produce great, tangible results.
Magar is one of 600 farmers in the district who’ve received support from UNDP to engage in climate-resilient practices. These farmers use tunnel houses and plastic ponds to adapt to changes in the climate while safeguarding their traditional occupations as smallholder farmers. Each household in the four wards of Dhankuta Municipality currently has a tunnel house. Even from a distance, plastic tunnel houses can be glimpsed across the municipality. Though the color of the tunnels is white, the vegetables growing inside them make them look green.
Changes in rainfall patterns and intensity have caused increased landslides and soil erosion in the district while simultaneously leading to the drying up of water resources. This in turn has caused a decline in soil fertility and crop productivity. With water becoming scarce, farmers are experimenting with alternative solutions for irrigation, like plastic ponds and tunnel houses.
Like Magar, Prem Bahadur Pathak from Bhirgaun in Dhankuta, also constructed a tunnel house last year with support from UNDP, Dhankuta Municipality, and the Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development Programme (PARDEP). Pathak earns Rs 90,000 in a single season by selling the tomatoes he produces.
“This would never have been possible without the tunnel house. It’s a boon for farmers like us,” said Pathak.
Tunnel houses enable farmers like Magar and Pathak to grow vegetables all year round, meaning their incomes have not just increased but are now more stable.
All of this has been possible due to the ‘Climate Smart Village’ project, which has been folded this year into the COVID-19 Response and Socio-Economic Recovery Project, under the economic assistance of UNDP and Dhankuta Municipality and management by PARDEP Nepal. The ‘Climate Smart Village’ concept includes an integrated approach to climate change, focusing on sustainable development. Climate smart agricultural approaches provide access to different technologies and practices that are simple and affordable for farmers to adopt. The program, which is currently in operation in around 1,000 households in Ward 1, 2, 3, and 10 of Dhankuta Municipality, not only focuses on supporting agricultural practices to adapt to climate change but also increasing employment opportunities for locals. The project, which started during the monsoon last year, is almost in its final phase now.
In Dhankuta, UNDP has not just supported the construction of tunnel houses, but has also provided saplings of different vegetables like tomato, capsicum, chilly, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach to the farmers free of cost.
According to Min Prasad Subedi, the local implementing agency’s project coordinator, they’ve managed to provide both financial assistance and climate smart farming training to local farmers. Subedi knows each household personally and keeps track of their farming updates through regular visits.
During my visit, I learned that farmers in Dhankuta now feel a sense of safety and food security, which is motivating them to continue farming, albeit with adaptive, innovative practices that take into account the changing contexts. Sustainable development, as exemplified by Dhankuta, does not just contribute to raising production and incomes but also aids in the social, economic, and environmental aspects of lives and livelihoods.