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The Changing Times

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A study finds that while environmental conditions in the Koshi basin are changing, constraints are keeping communities from fully adopting adaptation strategies

As knowledge of climate change filters through to communities in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, individuals are trying to understand how these environmental changes will affect their daily lives and how they will have to adapt in response. Many of these communities have begun to implement various climate-smart adaptation strategies; however, for scientists and decision makers it is not always clear which communities are using which strategies, or how effective these strategies are to the specific needs of the community. Yet without this foundational knowledge, it is difficult for decision makers to know how to move forward.

Researchers wanted to understand how climate change has been affecting the basin, how agriculture and other livelihood practices have been shifting as a result of these changes, and options for how these communities can best adapt.

In 2015, researchers supported by ICIMOD’s Koshi Basin Programme tried to answer some of these questions for the Koshi basin. They wanted to understand how climate change has been affecting the basin, how agriculture and other livelihood practices have been shifting as a result of these changes, and options for how these communities can best adapt. Because the environments in the Koshi basin are extremely varied, the researchers made an effort to include the basin’s different agro-ecological zones. The study included sites from the hills and plains of Nepal and flood-affected parts of the Indian state of Bihar. The team conducted a trend analysis of available climate data and field interviews in each of the selected sites.

The findings from this research have helped synthesize current understanding of agricultural and environmental trends in the Koshi basin. The team has drafted a paper with their results and are in the process of getting it published. The aim is that this research will aid decision makers in identifying the current gaps in planning, and encourage them to press for better strategies that help lessen some of the constraints that communities face. With this help, individuals will be able to make decisions that will help their communities remain strong in the years to come.

The team found that while the impacts of climate change varied in different parts of the basin, on a basin level, there is less water available for agricultural purposes, and, at the same time, incidents of floods and droughts are increasing. Together, these conditions have reduced crop yields, increased fallow lands, damaged properties, and displaced communities. The study also found that over the past three decades, the amount of cultivated land has decreased on a basin level, likely due in some part to these adverse conditions. However, despite these developments, many Koshi basin communities have not widely adopted appropriate adaptation strategies, which usually include a combination of measures like building embankments, shifting the location of houses, switching to drought-resistant crops, and floodplain zoning. The study suggested that communities in the Koshi basin face several constraints that limit their adoption of adaptation strategies, including limited financial resources, lack of technical knowledge, lack of awareness about adaptation options, lack of collective action, unclear property rights, and the ineffective role of state agencies.

Article: Baskoti, RC; Bharati, L; Bhattarai, U; Wahid, S (in preparation) Agricultural adaptation options to deal with changing water availability in the Koshi River Basin.
The research was funded by ICIMOD’s Koshi Basin Programme, and the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Water, Land and Ecosystem (WLE) research programmes of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Secondary data were provided by Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), Nepal, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), and Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Nepal.
Photo credit: Jitendra Bajracharya
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