A team of scientists from the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) in China carried out the study recently published in the journal PLoS One(30 September), which evaluated the potential impact of climate change on Nepal's burgeoning banana and coffee industries until the mid-century.
“Proper management of intercropping can sustain existing coffee plantations at some places while bananas can provide surplus income to smallholder farmers”
Sailesh Ranjitkar, KIB
According to lead author Sailesh Ranjitkar, a scientist at KIB, both bananas and coffee have been identified as potential cash crops in Nepal's recently approved agriculture development strategy, which seeks to transform the country's agriculture sector over the next decade.
Smallholders have been encouraged by the state to move from subsistence farming to crop cultivation. Ranjitkar says his team sought to identify suitable agro-ecological zones and better understand climate-related issues relevant to this transition.
"For smallholder farmers, adopting any new crop or potential economic crop is a one-time investment, and they are in big trouble if that crop fails," notes Ranjitkar. "Planners, managers or promoters need to consider all ecological factors before the introduction of new crops in a particular region and developing a new agroecosystem."
Ranjitkar and his colleagues used the bioclimatic stratification system to assess different growing zones on the basis of average daily temperature, evapotranspiration, aridity, temperature seasonality and other factors. They also included future shifts in these variables to calculate the effects of climate change on these areas.
The results suggested that the suitable growing area for coffee could decline by 72 per cent between now and 2050. The areas for growing bananas, however, are expected to grow by 40 per cent in the same period, particularly in the lowland areas of the country.
Because of this, the authors argue that bananas "show a lot of potential for playing an important role in Nepal as a sustainable crop in the context of climate change".
The authors also identified highland areas of Nepal where it may be possible to grow bananas and coffee together. This strategy, known as intercropping, has been carried out successfully in Latin America and Africa.
"Proper management of intercropping can sustain existing coffee plantations at some places while bananas can provide surplus income to smallholder farmers", says Ranjitkar. Brian Machovina, a scientist at Florida International University in Miami, United States, who isnot affiliated with the study, says that the work "provides another very good example of how climate change will likely shift areas around the world where specific crops can be grown".
"Diversity, adaptability and resiliency in agricultural systems will be key for future food security,"Machovina stresses.
He adds that the study should enable policymakers in Nepal to "develop long-term plans for addressing the consequences of climate change".
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.