During the course, Dr. Morell was able to witness firsthand many challenges that the Nepalese face to produce rice, which is the country’s most staple crop. These include low farm mechanization, low adoption of farming technologies and innovations, lack of year-round assured irrigation, labor shortage, and lack of availability of quality agricultural inputs in the right time and affordable price. Apart from these, farmers also have limited exposure and little access to machines and equipment used to mechanize farming (laser land levelers, direct seeded rice (DSR) drills, mechanical weeders, and combine harvesters).
As a result, most of the farmers still opt for dated and inefficient procedures such as traditional bullock-drawn and manual farming. These old mechanisms require more time and manual labor but do not bring in much profit, therefore costing the farmers more time and resources in the long run.
To fully understand how IRRI can help address these challenges, Dr. Morell went on field to monitor the progress of IRRI’s projects with the National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES), and to have a dialogue with smallholder farmers, project partners, and local government bodies. The visit highlighted the challenges in rice production in the region and brought recommendations for the government to effectively address these.
Among the activities were farm demonstrations using best practices in dry and wet direct seeding, and discussions about the production of climate resilient rice varieties. There were also capacity building activities of farmers, machine owners, and operators, to ensure that they are well-equipped with skills needed to efficiently utilize these new technologies in growing crops.
A number of trials on climate resilient rice varieties, mechanized DSR, and other activities were also set up in areas where a World Bank funded irrigation infrastructure project is currently under construction. These strengthen the value of increasing the availability of technologies and best practices for the rice agri-food system -- a goal that the World Bank, IRRI, and the Nepal Government are keen on achieving together through innovative partnership.
Dr. Morell also visited spring rice fields (known as Chaite dhan in vernacular) where rice harvesting of the IRRI-developed climate-resilient variety Hardinath-3 was in progress. Intensification of spring rice is key to significantly improving rice production in Nepal. According to Dr. Krishna Dev Joshi, IRRI Country Representative of Nepal, “Mechanized DSR using best management practices, and mechanized harvesting are key to reducing the cropping cycle by about two weeks and improving overall productivity and grain quality. It is important to customize these technologies and improve our capacity at all levels to be able to fully benefit from these rice science innovations”. Characterized as an efficient, fast-growing variety, cultivation of the Chaite dhan can significantly impact Nepal’s total rice yield. Dr. Joshi added, “There is a profound necessity to increase production of high-yielding, stress-tolerant rice varieties, and a need to conserve germplasm, if we are to ensure food security”.
Dr. Morell met with rice scientists, extension professionals and local governments, who are key in advancing rice science innovations in the country. These meetings aim to leverage resources and scale up technologies to increase production and yield. One of the highlights in these meetings was a visit with a farmers’ cooperative that is working with a local rice mill for branding and enterprising IRRI-developed climate-resilient rice variety (Sawa Sub-1) in Nepal.
Dr. Bhanu Pokhrel, Regional Director for Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), also emphasized on urgent need to mechanize farming in Nepal. He said, “Farm mechanization in rice-based systems is far more important now than before in the context of labor shortage”.
The visit, held in the distant villages of the Kailali, Bardiya, and Banks districts in Nepal on 21-23 June, culminated with plans for the Institute to be a knowledge partner for the Government of Nepal’s major initiative of improving overall rice sector including the irrigation project funded by the World Bank in Rani Jamara Kulariya in Kailali.