Set against an imposing Himalayan backdrop in the Kaski district of Nepal, Surya Adhikari and his wife Saraswati Adhikari, manage their farm. They grow 152 varieties of plant species including medicinal herbs, fuelwood, grass, orange, coffee, and lemons. Surya’s farm has become a model for visitors from all over the world who come to find out how mixing agricultural biodiversity, the laws of nature and scientific knowledge together can benefit their own farming practices. Future plans include an agricultural college in the local area to encourage young people to follow in Surya’s footsteps.
But Surya’s story does not start here. Like many smallholder farmers in Nepal, Surya’s family has been engaged in farming from the time of his forefathers. Facing financial difficulties, exacerbated by steep medical bills after his wife was bitten by a snake, Surya had to sell precious farming land, leaving him and his wife with just 3 ropani (1 ropani = 500 square meters) of difficult wet terrain to cultivate. A mixture of hard work and applying knowledge about how to use agricultural biodiversity and plant breeding methods more effectively, has slowly turned the land into a profitable and productive enterprise.
An eagerness to better understand how science and nature can work together led Surya to take part in a participatory plant breeding and diversity management programme, run by Bioversity International with partners. This programme helped enhance his already extensive knowledge of local crops, and enabled him to use local diversity to breed new crop varieties, and pass this knowledge on to others. A recent trip saw him travelling as far afield as Skrang in Sarawak, Malaysia, to speak to local farmers about the importance of participatory plant breeding for improving rice varieties.
“The relationship between farmers and scientists is like that of rock and soil – we are dependent on each other. Working with the scientists, we have learnt to modify our traditional knowledge to get the most from our land,” Surya said. “We have also come to understand how to improve traditional crop varieties. Through training, I have developed from a farmer into a breeder.”
This project by Bioversity International, carried out with local implementation partners such as Local Initiatives for Biodiversity Research and Development (LI-BIRD) and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) tapped into strong local networks to combine scientific and local knowledge of Nepal’s diverse plant heritage to mitigate risks to farmer income and productivity. The project was funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Government of the Netherlands.
For more information, and to read full interview with interview with Surya see Bioversity International: A fork in the road to Rio: Nepal.
Photo credit: Bhuwon Sthapit\Bioversity International