Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Analyzing Climate change perception at Dadhikot

Among the four peri-urban sites selected for the project, Dadhikot is a site which till day holds the position as traditional food supplier to the urban dwellers. Upon discussion on the local perception of climate change, local opinions were interestingly expressed.

“This year has been a good rain year” has been a general observation among major respondents of middle age. But Mr. Ramji Prasad Neupane's stance on this is quite contrasting. He is a farmer and social activist of age 64 and stated that the rain this year is just a proportion of the rainfall during his young days. He remembered his grandmother recalling her days telling "Hamro jamana ma ghum (traditional umbrella) ma likha  parthyo" meaning- "During our days, we used to get likha (pest) in our ghum due to persistent rain."

During his days he never experienced such persistence in rainfall but still recalled a simple incident of lightning was sufficient for the rainfall to begin. There used to be hardly any night with clear sky during Shrawan (July-August) and says “Shrawan mahina ma aakash ma euta tara dekhyo vane ek lakh muri anna ghatcha"-meaning "If a single star could be seen at the sky during the month of July- August, the crop yield gets reduced by a hundred thousand times." He further added the locally established analysis of climate "Magh ma jati gate pani paryo, Ashad ma teti nai gate pani parcha" meaning  “The date on which it rains during January-February, on the same date it rains during June-July in the next year.”

This old man with loads of experiences and a generosity to share them among youths lamented “2040/2042 saal dekhi prakriti le sath dinai chodyo” meaning- “The nature has started being unfriendly since 2040/42  (1983/85A.D)”, He blamed the rapid population growth as the causative factor. His words gave lucid picture of the change and were amazingly expressive. He explained “Sab ulta pulta vai sakyo” meaning “Everything has been opposite or drastically different.”

His experience as a farmer created a picture of traditional farming system. Traditionally major crops in this VDC have been paddy-wheat, potato as staple crops while maize, soyabean, legumes, millet-radish and vegetable farming was considered to be a subordinate farming. During early 2020s B.S (1963 A.D), planting paddy used to get started by Jestha 20/22 (June 1st week) where irrigation was accessible and in the other fields after monsoon started which then used to start by the first week of Ashad (Mid June). The indigenous paddy crops such as Thapachini, Yelanpu, Bapu, Guntetauli, Chakhuncha and Marsi were cultivated till 2024-2025 B.S. Thapchini was among the ones harvested first during Ashoj 12/15 (September last week) followed by Yelanpu, Bapu  and the last was Marsi which was harvested during Kartik 20/25 (November 2nd week). During 2025 B.S (1968 A.D), major agricultural intervention started in this VDC. This was the year of introduction of the chemical fertilizers. In the same year, a new variety of paddy was introduced in the VDC termed Taichin. In his 5-6 Ropanis of land, Mr. Ramji Neupane remembers harvesting in average 15/17 muris of indigenous variety but the new variety gave him 42 muris of yield. In the consecutive years, he increasingly replaced the indigenous variety with the new one and by 2028 B.S (1971 A.D), he completely replaced the old varieties of rice with the new variety. This has been the main paddy variety cultivated in the VDC till days. It was during the same period 2021-2022 B.S (1964-1965 A.D), new variety of wheat Chausathi Gahun, Baunna Gahun got introduced in the VDC. These new varieties of paddy and wheat initially introduced in 2021-22 B.S (1964-1965 A.D) in Tithali, Gundu- a neighbouring VDC and then transformed to Dadhikot after 2-3 years only.

The farmers in the VDC shared of experiencing three phase of transformation in their crop yield. During 2012/13 B.S (1955/56 A.D), crop production was hardly sustainable, 2 muris per ropani of rice which after the aforementioned agricultural intervention increased to 7/8 muri per ropani from 2025/26 B.S to 2040 B.S (1968-1983A.D) but after 2040/42 B.S (1983/85 A.D), the production has again followed a consistent declining trend now being 5/6 muri rice (1 ropani rice= Approx 50 Kg) per ropani (1ropani= 5476 hectares). This has been the trajectory also for wheat, 10/12 pathi per ropani (1 muri=20 pathi= 65 kg wheat) earlier to 4 muri per ropani from 2025/26 B.S (1968/69 A.D) to 2040 B.S (1983 A.D) and then plummeted to 2 muri per ropani.  It was during the same year, Banmara, a new species of weed invaded this VDC.

During 2046/47 B.S (1989/90 A.D), vegetable farming got started in the VDC and has been gradually growing on a commercial scale since then. With growing shift from traditional or organic compost to chemical fertilizers based agriculture, and simultaneously increasing urbanization and economic benefits of cash crops by 2052/53B.S (1996/97A.D) indigenous legumes (masyang, gahat, rato mas) disappeared from the VDC.

In the recent 4/5 years, commercial farming has been increasing as a lucrative option against hardship involved with harvest of traditional crops, of which wheat has been increasingly replaced by cash crops like Pumpkin, Cucumber cultivated in Baisakh (April/May) are ready for market in a month to be sold in Jestha (May/June).

The change in agricultural practices in the VDC has been appearing distinctly but the reasons behind cannot be attributed to a single cause and the farmers have not attributed this to the climate change.

On trying to get the local perception about the change, the elderly respondent strongly denied to relate the changes to climate change. He shared examples supporting the increase in temperature such as no more formation of Thato (Icy film on the water surface). Similarly till 2055/56 B.S (1998/99 A.D), frost formation getting started from Kartik (Oct/Nov) and remaining till Falgun (Feb/March) and Kalo tusaro (Invisible frost) from Falgun ( Feb/March) to Jestha (April/May), while in the recent years, frost is appearing only during Push- Magh (Jan/Feb) in the VDC. Similarly till 2040 B.S (1983 A.D), mosquito used to appear only during monsoon basically around cow-shed while now it starts by Falgun (February) and remains till Ashoj (Sept/Oct) second week.

Though a clear retrospective instances could be constructed as an evident of change in temperature, framing such cases were not very clear regarding rainfall. Mr. Ramji Neupane opined the intensive rainfall and extended dry spells used to occur now and again even during his youth days, but the forest and land cover used to preserve the soil moisture during the dry spells while the roots of the vegetation existed to absorb and transmit as sub-surface flow. He further stressed the decline in the production has by no way been impacted by climate change. Rather believed the unscientific use of the chemical fertilizers (use of Urea only instead of using it in combination with other chemical fertilizers)  that the farmers including him used for higher yield has caused the increase in acidity and soil degradation, of which the ultimate negative spillover effect has been visible as declining quantity and quality of crop yield.

Executive officer of Uttisghari Drinking Water Scheme who is also a local farmer shared his observation regarding the changes in the rainfall over time. According to him, 15 years back the pre-monsoon rain during Jestha (April/May) used to create a real havoc during wheat harvest, then it used to remain dry for almost two weeks, this being followed by the monsoon getting started by 1st week of Ashad (June) but in the recent 7/8 years, the onset of monsoon has been delayed to Shrawan 10/11((July end). He opined "Monsoon which used to extend from Jestha mid (June 1st week) or Ashad 1st week to Ashoj Last week (Sept half) has been completely unpredictable in the recent 5 years".  

He wondered “Industries have been shifted out of the area but still temperature has been going up”. By this time in Mangsir (Nov), temperature must have gone really down but it is still not yet chilling during mornings and evenings. The observation pointed by him about the invasion of an unidentified weed in paddy field which grows as tall as paddy plant is indeed remarkable. Local farmers also emphasized the increasing pest occurrence in crops mostly wheat and vegetables such that spraying pesticide has been a symbol of prestige and self- respect among farmers.

He added "There has been no persistency in rain rather it rains profusely or it remains dry for an extended period. With exception in this year, it has been a decade with very poor winter rain which has been a major problem for the winter crops. The Mahadev khola Rajkulo supplying clean water till a decade earlier has no more remained a reliable irrigation source since a decade”. He elaborated the declining water level in the dug wells which 10/15 years back yielded sufficient water at 30 to 40 feet depth now gives scarce water at 60-70 feet depth. The well that used to fill during 2 days, now does not provide same amount even during 5-7 days. The water reservoir of 0.2 million litres constructed in 2057 B.S (2000 A.D) for water supply under Uttisghari Drinking Water Scheme used to get filled within 10 hours through 3" pipe supply from the source but now requires 17/18 hours to get filled. He pointed the decrease in the rainfall as the cause of this declining water level.

Among other local people consulted, the views expressed were compatible among each other.  They further added, the wind storms and thunder showers which are locally considered characteristic features of months Falgun- Chaitra (March/April) has been reducing in the recent years. Information from Dadhikot that contradicted to the observation made by locals in Jhaukel VDC- the other project site of Bhaktapur district was in this area in the last recent years the paddy cropping has been delayed. Locals of Dadhikot with their familiarity to the conditions of Jhaukhel explained the reason behind was the difference in soil quality in the two sites. Jhaukhel with sub-soil of water holding capacity, the initial monsoon shower remains sufficient for paddy plantation while soil in Dadhikot requires consistent rain for the soil to remain saturated for preparing the fields for transplanting the paddy seedlings.

During discussion, a customary irrigation rule of this VDC was pointed out. This rule allowed the upstream farmer to divert or block the canal for their irrigation use disrespect of time and the need of downstream farmers. As an adaptive strategy, downstream farmers have been hiring drunkards, arranging drinks for them and making them to water their field during nights while among farmers where the irrigation is not possible, boring and dug wells have been a new irrigation water source. The occupational shift towards non-farm based agriculture and from traditional subsistence based agriculture towards commercial farming, poultry, dairy farming, organic farming and horticulture has been widely increasing since early 2060s B.S.(2003 A.D) has also come an adaptive strategy towards developing resilience towards water availability, changing climate, market demand and changing livelihood.

Labor shortage has been a growing problem in this VDC which could be either due to the opportunity towards more lucrative labor on one hand and occupational shift on other has created shortage of labor for agriculture. The changing lifestyle and fragmentation of family towards nuclear family was pointed by the local people as a cause of increasing dependency on agro based labors thereby increasing cost of production which seems very relevant analysis.

With intermingling of climatic, social, economic phenomenon it is not easy to compose any conclusion that can be attributed merely to climate change.

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