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17 Nov 2015 | News

Soil Study in Mustang

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Up to 18 thousand gross tonnes of carbon are stored in worldwide soils, almost double the amount stored in all terrestrial plants and over three times that of the atmospheric pool. The amount of carbon stored in soil possesses the potential to sequester atmospheric carbon — both direct and indirect emission of carbon from agricultural land — and represents 17-32 percent of all global human induced greenhouse gas emission including land use change. Soil productivity, in terms of organic matter and physical and chemical properties, plays a significant role in climate change mitigation and food security.  Carbon sequestration also has the potential to offset global fossil fuel emissions by up to 15 percent.

Recent vulnerability assessments show over 40 percent of Hindu Kush (HKH) households are facing de-creasing yields in their five most important crops as a result of floods, droughts, frost, hail, and disease. To cope up with the climate change mountain farmers are changing farming practices, crop varieties, abandoning staple food production and livestock varieties, and are more involved with cash crop production, but these adopted techniques are leading to more vulnerable food security.

A two week field visit was organised to Mustang, Nepal to assess soil productivity, organic carbon and physiochemical characteristics linking to climate change mitigation and food security. At 3,840 meters, Mustang’s rocky highlands comprise barren, agricultural, orchard, forest and degraded shrub lands.

The assessment  found most locals are dependent on forest products for cooking and heating fuel during the winter. In areas where possible, Populas ciliate (Bhote Pipal), Salix sps (Bains) and Prunus cerasoids (Painyu) are planted, most planted by Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP).

Soil samples were collected in both upper and lower Mustang from 28 plots. Properties such as pH, soil organic carbon, soil texture and bulk density, cation exchange capacity, total nitrogen, available phos-phor, available potassium will be determined through the sample collections. The collected samples have been brought to Kathmandu University/Aquatic Ecology Center (AEC) for the analysis. Analysis should reveal yield and productivity of the land based on the multiple benefits of soil organic carbon and societal values thereon.

To assess livelihood dependency and the local farming practices, a questionnaire was prepared and six focus group discussions were held in Lomanthang, Thini, Kobang, Marpha, Chhusang, Kunjo and Chhong VDCs. Discussions covered food security, local livelihood and agriculture practices. The objec-tives of the discussion were: existing farming practice, crop productivity and food security situation; farmers’ responses on their experience with current farming practices; and local experiences on climate change condition and its impacts on soil fertility and existing forest land, agricultural land and bare lands use. Initial findings suggested climate change has caused a change in weather patterns which ultimately affects agriculture.
Upper Mustang suffered heavy snowfall which killed livestock and, but experienced less rainfall affecting their crops. Extreme weather also affected the Yarsagumba collection and the quality of phapar (buck-wheat), and many fruits like apples and plums.
At the same time, an increase in vegetable farming highlighted the positive impact of climate change. The community found the weather favoured vegetables like string beans (simi), spinach (saag), cauliflower, cabbage, etc. which grow at lower elevations with higher temperatures. Climatic variation — less rain fall results in less crop production, crop failure, and more insect attack — had less effect on fruit farming making fruit farming more attractive.
Variations in rainfall and snowfall are the main climate issues of this district. Climate change is projected to affect food security in a number of ways. Studies predict the Himalayan glaciers will release more water in the next 10–20 years, followed by a gradual decrease in most major river basins. The experiences of the local farmers of the district clearly shows climate change impacts on agriculture and poses future risks and vulnerabilities.
Mustang’s extreme weather conditions make it highly vulnerable to climate change. The study will provide an analytical approach to address issues caused by climate change and will help provide appropriate solutions for mitigation. In addition, the study will provide baseline data for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action landscapes and allow for upscaling the study in other HKH landscapes where food security and mitigation potentials can be addressed simultaneously.

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