When Every Drop Counts

© Simrika Sharma / WWF Nepal

Jagat Bahadur Shrestha, a farmer by profession, lives in a village in Nirmalbasti Village Development Committee (VDC). He and his family of five survive on less than a hectare of land from which they eke out a living. Water deficiency is characteristic of Nirmalbasti VDC with many villagers abandoning farming of seasonal crops and opting for tobacco as the prime alternative given its need for less water.

“Not a single perennial river passes through this village. All we had as a water source was a well that could hardly support 40 of the 300 households in our village. We had to wait for hours for our turn to get water; sometimes we had to return with empty vessels. Being a farmer I always dreamt of planting vegetables that would give me a good income and meet the nutritional needs of my family, but I could neither grow my own vegetables nor buy them regularly”, shared Jagat pensively.

© Simrika Sharma / WWF Nepal

In neighboring Bara district, Kanchi Maya Dhalan grappled with a similar problem. A residence of Ratanpuri village, Kanchi Maya relied on water from a small gorge for farming to support her family of eight. While the water from this source was adequate for her needs, the problem was having to walk to the source and back for water. She and the rest of the villagers lacked the resource as well as to channel the water to their lands.

These villages in Parsa and Bara districts fall within Nepal’s fragile Churia region – the outermost hill range spreading from the east to the west of Nepal. Inhabited mostly by farmers, the ecology of the region is under constant pressure from deforestation, over-grazing, land conversion, inappropriate agricultural practices, and encroachment. A primary impact is on water availability and sustainable land management thereby directly affecting the livelihoods of local people such as Jagat and Kanchi Maya.

Until two years ago, Jagat, like his fellow villagers, had planted tobacco in his farmland. His annual harvest provided him with an income of Rs. 10,000 (USD 100) which was insufficient to cover his household expenses especially to afford his children’s education for which he used to take loans.

Kanchi Maya, on the other hand, was relatively a little better off with an annual farming income of Rs. 25,000 (USD 250). However, she had her own set of problems as water from the gorge contained significant amount of sand which was deteriorating the fertility of her land, and the rainfall was also erratic.

© Akash Shrestha / WWF Nepal

For Jagat and Kanchi Maya whose lives were bound by a common concern, it was but a matter of time for change to happen for them for the better.

In 2014, WWF with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) introduced a project, Sustainable Land Management in the Churia Region, in Makawanpur, Parsa, Bara and Rautahat districts of Central Nepal. The project also brought together for the first time four ministries of Nepal – Ministry of Land Reform and Management, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Ministry of Agricultural Development and Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment – under a common objective.

Within a short span of three years, the project brought about tangible benefits for the local people such as Jagat and Kanchi Maya.

In Parsa, Jagat along with 11 households of Nirmalbasti were supported with micro-irrigation facilities for the efficient use of water for irrigation in extremely dry areas. Jagat participated in a training on micro-irrigation techniques and agricultural practices and received equipment for a drip irrigation system in his farm land. This system helped Jagat to make an efficiently use of the available water resource. Through the same source that he used in the past Jagat could now harvest seasonal crops thrice a year. His household income grew extraordinarily with earnings of Rs. 90,000 (USD 900) in a season. As an added benefit, the micro irrigation system also aided on increasing the productivity of the soil.

© WWF Nepal

In Bara, Kanchi Maya and eleven other households from her village benefitted from a plastic pond that was constructed under the project which provided them continuous access to water for irrigation. Through technical support received from the project the local people conserved a natural spring source which became the main source of water supply for the plastic pond. The water from the spring source was then channelized to the plastic pond through an irrigation canal. With water now readily available close to her farmland, Kanchi Maya now grows vegetables throughout the year. Kanchi Maya also presently earns Rs. 3,00,000 (USD 3000) annually from farming.

The benefits brought about by the project were both demonstrable and sustainable to build lasting change for people like Jagat and Kanchi Maya. With a focus on local relevance, blending local knowledge with improved science and technology, the sustainable land management project in Churia serves as a model in community wellbeing and enhanced ecological conditions.