Extreme weather hurts Hindu-Kush Himalayan households

ISLAMABAD: Low agricultural production and declining income due to extreme weather events are deepening household food insecurity in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, a study reports.

Based on data from 8,083 households surveyed in the HKH’s four river sub-basins — Upper Indus (Pakistan), Eastern Brahmaputra (India), Koshi (Nepal), and Salween and Mekong (China) — the majority of the households have observed in recent years more frequent floods, landslides, erratic rains, droughts, livestock diseases and crop pests, and blame these on climate change.

Because of these climate change-induced hazards that also block food supply from other areas, mountain farmers face transient food insecurity, which harms their local food systems and livelihood sources.

The study, published in the journal Food Security (October 2016), identifies policy solutions based on the agro-ecological potential of the region and opportunities for increasing agricultural resilience and diversity of livelihoods.

Abid Hussain, a lead author of the study, tells SciDev.Net that the farmers have been altering their centuries-old farming and cattle-rearing methods as a coping strategy. There is also increasing outmigration in the said region.

“Changes in farming practices include water conservation methods, changes in sowing time and greater involvement with cash crop production such as for potato, apple, cherry, apricot, pear and walnut, which are relatively more resilient to water stress and have higher market value,” explains Hussain, a food security economist at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Since the sheep and the larger animals consume more fodder and water, Hussein says mountain cattle farmers were observed lessening the number of larger animals and sheep as a coping technique, and adopting local breed goats that are more resilient to water and fodder and forage stresses.

Golam Rasul, another author of the study, tells SciDev.Net that while the socio-economic characteristics of the mountain communities in the HKH are not significantly different from that of the Asia-Pacific, Africa or South America, the severity and magnitude of climate-induced risks and impact on agriculture and food security are higher in the HKH region compared to other mountain regions.

“Thus, we cannot apply the study’s findings and conclusions for other regions,” stresses Rasul, a senior agriculture and food security scientist at ICIMOD.

Pramod Aggarwal, CGIAR regional programme head for climate change, agriculture and food security in South Asia, says remittances from migrants are propping up household food security but the outmigration has a negative side.

“Outmigration and the falling interest of the mountain youth in farming add to low farm productivity. Households face frequent labour shortages, which are causing increasing amounts of fallow agricultural land,” Aggarwal says.

Rasul recommends that framing mountain-specific food security policies, introducing conservation irrigation techniques and water-saving and climate-resilient crop varieties, and diversifying income sources are a must for food security in HKH mountain areas.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

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