Its agricultural research system is not only poorly funded, but "research per se has become irrelevant, it has not reached farmers," Bhag Mal, consultant for the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), said at a policy dialogue on agricultural research, held in Kathmandu last week (25 July).
The dialogue, organised by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and APAARI, was part of a broader effort in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, to develop national and regional priorities for agriculture research.
Agriculture contributes up to 35 per cent of Nepal’s national wealth or gross domestic product (GDP), and supports the livelihood of over 60 per cent of its largely rural people, but farming research receives little attention.
Compared "with other countries in the South Asian region, funding for agriculture research in Nepal is very low," Pramod Joshi, director for South Asia at IFPRI, said. Nepal allocated 0.27 per cent of its budget to NARC for 2011-12, down from 0.53 per cent in 1997-1998.
Lack of research means that farmers, especially those living in the remote mountainous and far-western regions of the country, "do not have access to new, improved technologies, which are adapted to changing climate conditions," Devendra Gauchan, agricultural economist and chief of the socioeconomics and agri-research policy division at NARC, said.
While apples grown in the cool and dry climate of Mustang district, in north-central Nepal, have started to taste sour, but there are no research initiatives aimed at improving the valuable crop.
"Either apple orchards need to shift to higher altitudes, or we need to grow other low-chill varieties in the same location. But for that, we need to do research on low-chill varieties," explained Shreeram Neopane, chief of Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development, a Pokhara-based non-government organisation.
"Research to develop varieties resistant to emerging pests is also necessary," Neopane told SciDev.Net.
Additionally, "whatever new technology we develop, the delivery mechanism is so weak that it is not reaching poor farmers," Gauchan added.
For example, although NARC has released drought- and flood-tolerant varieties of rice in the last two years, most farmers still use varieties developed over two decades ago.