Monitoring Nepal’s Bread Basket

New technologies have helped to create a comprehensive crop monitoring system

In the southern part of the Koshi basin, the mountains and hills of the Himalayas flatten out to wide, stretching plains. These plains run along the Nepal-India border, and comprise some of the country’s most fertile land. More than half of Nepal’s agriculture is based in this region, and the crops grown here are shipped to other regions throughout Nepal. Because of this, reliable and timely weather forecasts and information around seasonal cropping patterns are critical in assuring the region’s food security. Until now, however, Nepal has lacked a comprehensive system that brings this information together in a meaningful way.

The system provides information on local and regional cropping systems, weather forecasts, the area of crops sown, crop health, and drought probabilities.

Responding to this need, ICIMOD in 2014 partnered with Nepal’s Ministry of Agricultural Development (MOAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to integrate new technologies in crop monitoring to create a technologically advanced, real-time system that contributes to understanding and analysis of agriculture in Nepal. The system brings together data collected from open source remote sensing technology, satellites, ground-based hydrometeorological stations, public and private domains, and volunteers. It provides information on local and regional cropping systems, weather forecasts, the area of crops sown, crop health, and drought probabilities.

The products of this crop monitoring system are fed into a twice-yearly Crop Situation Update produced by MOAD, WFP, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Crop Situation Update provides a comprehensive overview of the domestic food supply situation by focusing on the production and trade of major summer and winter crops in Nepal. It also helps to identify anomalies in the country’s food production, which reveals areas that need special attention.

In addition, ICIMOD is striving to make vital information from the crop monitoring system accessible to farmers. A team is making use of the growing ubiquity of mobile phones in Nepal and creating an app that gives information on crops and drought. While mobile technologies have been aiding farmers in India and elsewhere in recent years, no comparable resources yet exist in Nepal. The app developers plan to include information on weather, crop season, best farming practices, local crops, agricultural market prices and arrivals, availability of fertilizers, electricity timings, disaster warnings, training opportunities, government schemes, plant and veterinary disease prevention, and financing and insurance services. Moreover, a drought monitoring system, which is in the process of being developed, will provide short- and long-term information on predicted droughts. The team also plans to translate the information on the app into Nepali script so that more farmers will be able to use it. The app is expected to be launched by the end of 2015.

With both the online monitoring system and the app, the programme hopes to deliver accurate agricultural information to the people who depend on it most. This information has the potential to not only bolster the livelihoods of farmers, but also improve environmental management and resilience to climate change in Nepal.

The crop monitoring system is a collaborative initiative between the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio supported Koshi Basin Programme and the USAID- and NASA- supported SERVIR-Himalaya initiative at ICIMOD.

Photo credit: Jitendra Bajracharya, Nabin Baral