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Improving water use and food security for South Asian farmers

Encompassing parts of India, Nepal and the majority of Bangladesh, the Eastern Gangetic Plains is one of the most densely populated and poverty-stricken belts in South Asia.

While the area is rich with fertile land, a growing population continues to be highly dependent on it for food security and livelihood.

Behind this persisting poverty are deeply entrenched social structures of class and caste, with a high incidence of inequitable landlord-tenant relations making it extremely difficult for disadvantaged residents to prosper.

Poor access to irrigation water in the dry season, poor government support systems, limited irrigation capacity and low agricultural innovation, only adds to this difficulty.

There are strong linkages between poverty and access to water.
USQ researchers have been working in 12 villages across Nepal, India and north-west Bangladesh to improve year-round access to water for irrigation through farming collectives.

USQ researchers from the Centre for Agricultural Engineering (CAE) have been working in 12 villages across Nepal, India and north-west Bangladesh to improve year-round access to water for irrigation through farming collectives.

The multi-disciplinary project, run through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is working to improve the productivity of agriculture, incomes and food security for these marginal communities.

These farming collectives are changing community knowledge, attitude and skills, by empowering farmers and allowing women, marginal and tenant farmers to run a property as a joint enterprise when they otherwise would not have had the means to do so.

The installation of new and improved infrastructure, including tube wells, ponds and infield irrigation, has allowed farmers to irrigate in the dry season and the move from predominantly rice-based cropping systems to multi-crop systems, such as vegetables, is introducing high-value crops and resulting in more nutritious diets.

Access to year-round water for irrigation would significantly promote the productivity of agriculture, improving incomes and food security.

In addition, women are being given the opportunity to participate, make farming decisions, ask about finances and accounts and market vegetables themselves.

Access to information, resources, knowledge and training mean farmers are in a better financial situation and have a greater understanding of tenure and policies.

This research is crucial to the long-term sustainability of small-scale agriculture in the Eastern Gangetic Plains and researchers will continue working with communities until 2019.

Direct impact

Kanakpatti is a village in the south-east of Nepal, with a community of different ethnic groups. One such group, the Dalit group, have no agricultural land and have traditionally depended on labour wages and firewood collection.

A farming collective has now been formed within this community, leasing land and being trained in crop production, water management and leadership development. Both male and female farmers now have access to reliable irrigation after an electric pump and tube well was installed to satisfy all year irrigation.

Farmers are now able to grow vegetable crops throughout the year on previously barren land, and each farmer is now contributing to a saving and credit scheme. Thanks to the efforts of ACIAR, they are being supported to grow high-value crops that could maximise their income and reduce their dependency on traditional occupations.

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