Scaling Up the Off-Season Vegetable Production in Nepal


Nepal is a Feed the Future focus country. More than two-thirds of its population depends on agriculture for livelihood. Over 80 percent resides in the rural areas where the rates of poverty are even higher.

A collaborative effort is proposed to demonstrate the best practices in agricultural extension to address food and nutrition security. Its mission is to showcase a demand-driven, participatory and pluralistic model of agricultural extension to enhance knowledge and behavior change among poor, rural households. The strategy involves implementation of backyard garden for off-season vegetable production to increase household income as well as the availability and accessibility of fresh vegetables that impacts on nutritional status of women and children. This project will test the hypotheses that effective agricultural extension service can enhance knowledge and behavior change among poor, rural households.

Background

Nepal experimented many models of agricultural extension services—Training and Visit Extension, Cropping Systems and Farming Systems Research and Extension, Commodity Approach to Extension, Group Approach, Farmers Field Schools, and etc. Most of these approaches had pervasive bias against small and marginal farmers. Only few resource-efficient farmers benefitted from these services. For various reasons including cost-effectiveness, none of the above approaches were sustainable and served as model for national agricultural extension.

In response to a request from a local NGO, Indragufa Community Development Foundation (ICDF), Michigan State University’s Department of Community Sustainability piloted an off-season vegetable production with 18 farmers in 2011. Farmers were trained on off-season tomato production. The project provided plastic tunnel along with tomato seedlings. All participating farmers contributed to the construction of bamboo-framed tunnel house. With promising results, MSU decided to expand the pilot with additional 56 farmers in 2013.

Results showed that farmers earned about US$350.00 within one cropping season from off-season tomato crop planted in less than 200 square feet of land. Farmers who would struggle to get petty cash to buy paper and pencils for their kids and their daily household goods now have adequate cash at their disposal. With tomatoes, beans and other green vegetables produced at their farms, households have access to fresh vegetables and some protein supplementation in their diet than before. In March 2014, some 150 farming families in the neighboring villages have expressed their eagerness to join this program.

The agricultural extension model promoted by MSU is simple-- carefully select local farmers to receive intensive training on specific innovation, provide inputs to demonstrate the new technology at her/his farm, make regular follow-up visits to monitor problems, train select farmers as leader farmers and mobilize them, and offer timely advice for solutions. Not being able to get support from others, farmers’ expectations of the leader farmers are high. Farmers expect leader farmers to help them not only with the technical advice, but with inputs supply, market information, and marketing of their produce. This showed an urgent need for a multi-skilled leader farmer or an entrepreneur-cum farmer.

Lessons Learned

Agricultural extension is believed to play pivotal role in agricultural development and it is essential for food and nutrition security. Many approaches to agricultural extension have been tested over the past 50 years. Major lessons learned include the following:   

·      Large, hierarchical structures of publicly-funded and publicly-provided, conventional technology-transfer approach are unable to respond effectively to predominately small and marginal farmers’ needs. They suffer from poor levels of management. They tend to follow top-down, supply- and technology-driven service delivery model or follow one-way technology transfer. Most benefits are captured by elites. They demonstrate poor linkages with research and/or education. They are less cost-effective, not financially sustainable and thus, no longer preferred.

·      Participatory and bottom-up systems, market-driven or fee-for service systems are emerging. These emerging approaches encourage pluralistic service delivery systems (multiple organization delivering service), and decentralization of programs/project’s operation at the district and village levels. Decentralization helps address problems of  different agro-ecological conditions as access to agricultural production systems and markets differ significantly across regions. Decentralization also helps in agricultural value chain development.

·      Privatization or outsourcing of services to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), and Farmer Organizations (FOs) are in demand. Public extension tends to serve farmers better if it coordinates with and begin building public-private partnerships; as well as helping farmers get organized and linked to new markets and opportunities.

·      Use of various forms of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) offer great potential for information delivery in a timely manner. Although, information is essential for knowledge gain, but it may not be sufficient to bring about the behavioral change. However, ICTs play pivotal role in dissemination of information on new technology and innovations.

·      There is a need to focus extension service to women and small farmers and disadvantaged group. Given key resource differences, small scale men and women farmers should refocus their farming systems so they can increase farm incomes and improve their livelihoods, which will result in healthy families, etc.

·      Given an economic growth in most developing countries, extension may focus its attention on new and emerging market opportunities for high value crops, livestock, fish and other products.

·      Extension services tend to be cost-effective if they organize producers into Farmer Organizations or Cooperatives. Then, the membership of these organizations can be empowered to create “farmer-led” extension programs.

In summary, publicly-provided extension service has been under scrutiny for its inability to address farmers felt-needs. Instead, community-engaged and farmer-led extension is demanded. Training leader farmers and mobilizing them to serve other neighboring farmers is a viable alternative for developing countries. Lessons from training of contact farmers and the Village Animal Health Workers in Nepal show that farmer-to-farmer extension services are efficient, both in terms of cost and timeliness of the services. This will not only empower local communities, but their dependency on others will be greatly diminished. Being local, leader farmers are familiar with farmers’ contexts than the external technicians. Leader farmers can charge some fees to sustain their service. These leader farmers can also supply inputs- certified seeds, seedlings, or farm equipment.

The above experiences trigger the following questions.

·         How to manage transition from public extension service to public-private partnership and maintain quality of service? Pluralistic service providers NGOs/CBOs– what policies and implementation guidelines/regulations are needed for public-private partnership?

·         How to maintain collaboration between research (e.g., Nepal Agriculture Research Council), education (e.g., Agriculture and Forestry University) and extension service (e.g., Department of Agriculture and Department of Livestock Services)?

·         How and at what level decentralization should occur? Should programs be planned and implemented at district, sub-district or village Level?

·         How can Nepal develop a cadre of leader farmers who serve as entrepreneur-cum frontline extension workers (i.e., leader farmers demonstrating new technology and also work as local inputs suppliers)? Who should train them? How long?

·         What Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) should we promote and use? Who monitors and regulates the content of the extension message?

·         Pluralistic service providers such as NGOs/CBOs– what policies and implementation guidelines/regulations are needed for public-private partnership?

 

Project Goals and Objectives

Our work in a mountain village of Nepal suggests that off-season vegetable production has strong potential for increasing household income and improving nutritional status / outcomes than lower value, staple crops. Getting timely and effective extension service however remains a major challenge. The national and international experiences and studies indicated the need to empower farmers, not only economically, but socially and intellectually to revive agricultural extension and sustain agricultural development. For this, reversal of the current approach of extension is suggested: bottom-up, demand-driven, pluralistic, cost recovery or fee-for-service, participatory extension service, and maximizing the use of information communication technologies (ICTs) in extension services, with farmers as the main partners.

The overarching goal of this project is to enhance food and nutrition security by increasing farm productivity with a focus on high value crops. Building on the success of MSU-initiated off-season vegetable production, this project will involve a two-pronged approach: (1) scaling up of the off-season vegetable (tomato) production program; (2) developing leader farmers as entrepreneur-cum-extension workers at the grassroots. The scaling up of off-season vegetable will increase household income and access to nutrient-rich vegetables. Training local farmers who serve as entrepreneur-cum frontline extension worker (i.e., who provides advisory services including inputs supply, marketing, seed production, etc. to supplement household income) at the grass-roots would enable farmers’ access to extension services.

Concurrently, this action-research will:

1. Develop the demographic and socio-economic profile of the farmers participating in off-season vegetable production program for impact assessment;

2.   Empirically document any gains to household income and consumption of vegetables by participating households (on a larger sample size);

3.  Determine the costs, economic return and social impacts of utilizing leader farmer as entrepreneur-cum extension workers program if scaled up across FTF zone of influence in Nepal;

4. Demonstrate the use of demand-driven, participatory agricultural extension model for Nepal Government extension officials, NGO professionals and donor community representatives during a field day; and

5.  Develop a technical model and associated training materials for rapid dissemination of proven innovative extension strategies to reach small and marginal farmers.

 Implementation strategy

·         Participatory action research method will be employed for this project. This pilot is designed to demonstrate new innovations and efficiency enhancing technologies to benefit the small and marginal farmers. 

·         A coordinating committee comprising representations from Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Department of Agriculture, local NGO, local market representative and leader farmers will be formed to plan and coordinate all programs, oversee emerging problems and issues related to off-season tomato production and leader farmer program.

·         Leader farmers will be identified and selected for training on vegetable production before the production season starts. There will be a leader farmer in every village. Leader farmers will provide farmers with extension and advisory services and also supply the inputs that farmers need.

·         Leader farmers will also pilot and produce the vegetables (tomato and others), foundation seeds of rice and will eventually establish themselves as the certified seed producers. Private seed companies will collaborate with local NGO staff on seed supply and marketing.

·         Leader farmers will also pass on marketing information: market price, market demand of vegetables and cereals, etc. to the neighboring farmers.

·         The Department of Agriculture and Department of Livestock Service district staff will serve as the resource persons for the trainings and also serve as advisors for the programs. NARC scientists will be consulted as needed.

·         Leader farmers will follow a working guideline developed in consultation with the stakeholders.

·     100 farm families will be selected to participate in this project. Representation of women, and farmers from ethnic groups will be ensured.

·         Famers will be provided with a plastic tunnel and tomato seedlings. They will bear the cost of the other materials, for example, the materials required for shed construction and they will also contribute their labor.

·  Farmers will receive training on vegetable production including control and containment of diseases and pests, and agricultural entrepreneurship, group and/or cooperative mobilization, saving and credits, etc.

·       A video documentary of this innovative program (vegetable production and leader farmers) will be prepared, distributed to extension offices, and broadcasted over the local television.

·     The project commences in May 2014 and will end on August 2015. Final report will be submitted in September 2015.

An important outcome of the program would be the successful piloting of the leader farmers as entrepreneur-cum-extension worker at the grassroots level. It can then be up scaled by the Department of Agriculture throughout the country. It is anticipated that the results of this project will contribute to development of demand-driven agricultural extension policy in Nepal. With support from MEAS project, the PIs have already initiated dialog with Nepal’s Department of Agricultural Development, Nepal Agriculture and Forestry University, and private sector firms to develop agricultural extension policy. The project will also open doors for other agricultural programs, for example, participatory seed multiplication, linking farmers to market through farmer-managed groups/cooperatives, etc.

This project will hit the following MEAS targets which were discussed during the partners meeting in Chicago:

·  Extension staff trained: Approximately 100 leader farmers including women group leaders and grassroots agricultural extension professionals from Western Region of Nepal will visit the project site to observe the implementation of participatory agricultural extension model

·     2-5 donor agency/INGO professionals, 10-15 AFU faculty members, 10-20 Department of Agriculture, Department of Livestock Services and Nepal Agricultural Research Council  will visit the project site to have an exposure on this approach

·     10 leader farmer-cum entrepreneurs will be trained to implement the project

·   2 seminar presentations will be made within Nepal, and lessons learned will be presented during professional conference such as AIAEE Annual Conference

· One Masters theses and two undergraduate/graduate students will have internship experience resulting in 1-2 refereed journal article publication

·   A new agricultural extension strategy/model developed and specific good practices/reforms to improve public extension services will be recommended

·      Linkages between MSU and Nepal’s DOA, DLS, AFU and NARC will be enhanced

 


Murari Suvedi, Professor

Department of Community Sustainability

Michigan State University

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