Using water efficiently to tackle climate challenges in Nepal

Elderly farmer in Nepal

Elderly farmer in Nepal, by Sharada Prasad

In framing the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations notes that 2600 million people directly depend on agriculture and that half of the land used for agriculture is affected by soil degradation. Each year, the world loses an estimated 12 million hectares due to drought and desertification, and as with most environmental problems, poor people are the most affected by this loss. In Latin America, as in Africa and Asia, between 15% and 25% of the population lives in semi-arid areas. About 25% of the landmass in Latin America and Africa is semi-arid, and in South Asia 38%. This represents a severe challenge to people in the global south where much work is needed in order to agree on the priority actions to address growing aridity. Nepal is very aware of this problem and a group of experts work with government, civil society and the donor community to agree how best to tackle these challenges. Ram Chandra is one of these experts.

Ram has spent 25 years working on climate change adaptation, agriculture and forestry issues, and on nature conservation in Nepal and in other Asian countries. He was a participant in a Learning Alliance under the ELLA Programme, a UK Aid funded south-south knowledge initiative that mixes research, exchange and learning to inspire evidence-based policies and practices. Together with REDEH, a Human Development Network in Brasil, and CentroClima, a unit that works on climate change research at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Practical Action Consulting Latin America managed a Learning Alliance on Climate Change Adaptation in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions, in which Ram and peers from Latin America, Africa and Asia, discussed climate change adaptation strategies. After a four-month dialogue, it was clear to participants that many climatological impacts were similar in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) across the global south. Impacts include increased rainfall variability, reduced total annual precipitation, cycles of severe drought and flood, and desertification.

Ram was convinced of the benefits of sharing experiences between different settings, and he decided to take some of the adaptation experiences from Pintadas in the north-east of Brazil to Manang district, a remote area in central Nepal. He documented some of the prominent adaptation technologies for ASALs practiced in Brazil and shared this learning back in Nepal, to provide options for farmers and to help shape adaptation strategies in Nepal. In the Learning Alliance, one of the main conclusions was that improving water access is insufficient in itself. Building capacity, introducing new technologies and providing technical assistance to enable communities to use water efficiently is also vital . Ram produced a comprehensive leaflet in Nepali reflecting these lessons and discussed them with farmers, and with staff from the District Agricultural Development and Livestock offices and other district level agencies. He focused on how to put limited water to its most productive use. Three years afterwards, Ram knows that the district authorities have integrated that knowledge into their work plans: drip irrigation, an efficient irrigation canal, water conservation ponds and water harvesting are now more common. “It’s not only due to my training but they have actually integrated the water management approach into semi-arid adaptation activities in all work plans”, says Ram . He is very pleased to know that what he saw in Pintadas of how people actually manage water in water scarce conditions has contributed to this remote district in Nepal.

Nairobi market

ELLA Study Tour to Pintadas, Brazil

But this is not the only result of Ram’s participation in the ELLA Programme. At the national level, he plays an important advisory role. His experience on South Asia and Central Asia has been complemented with lessons from other continents, so with a strong background he now forms part of a consulting team for government. In 2014, he was a climate change expert for the development of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan where he still uses the knowledge generated in interactions with fellow participants in the ELLA Learning Alliance on Climate Change Adaptation in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions. In 2015 he worked as the climate change and energy expert writing for the National Conservation Strategy Framework. “I’m pretty confident that the learning I had from ELLA helped me to widen my work as a consultant. The experience gave me lot of opportunities to learn and it helped me to enhance my capabilities and to build my confidence”, says Ram . He notes that the series of conversations and discussions in the learning alliance provided an opportunity to read a lot of case studies and to benefit from a knowledge sharing mechanism that was very useful for his work.

In the last two years, Ram has been involved in the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) project where they are identifying climate smart agriculture technologies and where he is actively using the knowledge he shared with people in Manang District on issues related to water scarcity and agricultural farming systems. Reflecting on his experience in the last three years, he confirms that the learning he gained from the ELLA Programme was helpful not only for developing this and other projects but also for increasing his confidence. Ram is now CDKN Country Engagement Leader in Nepal but also the CEESP/IUCN Commission Member and Member of the Climate Smart Agriculture Advisory Committee of the Gold Standard Foundation in Geneva, Member of Nepal Participatory Action Network and Founding General Secretary and Vice President for Community of Evaluators (Nepal).

Stories like Ram Chandra’s and his important role in Nepal’s adaptation to climate change at different levels show that south-south exchange can contribute to change when there are windows of opportunity, and where programmes work with committed, capable individuals able to deploy the knowledge they picked up when the opportunity develops.

In the ELLA programme UK Aid bet on the benefits of south-south learning. Ram’s story is just one case among the many registered by the programme. Knowledge exchange between regions of the ‘global south’ can work, even where countries are very different, when sufficient attention is paid to identifying and understanding context. In this case, learning from Latin America served Ram to increase his confidence, advice the government and to inform specific national and local plans.

This article has been written by Alicia Quezada, Manager of Practical Action Consulting Latin America, and is based on an interview with Ram Chandra (2 March 2016) and programme reports, including a report on the ELLA Learning Alliance on Climate Change Adaptation in Semi-arid and Arid Regions “Module 1: Key Issues and Responses in Developing Countries”, and the ELLA Guide “Improving Small Farmers’ Adaptive Capacity in Semi-arid Regions”.
You can contact Mark Lewis if you want to know more about the ELLA Programme and Alicia Quezada if you want to engage with Practical Action Consulting Latin America.
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