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The COVID-19 pandemic: Effects on Farming

Solar irrigation has been a boon to tackle some of the pandemic related crisis

 

The public health crisis COVID-19 pandemic is causing slowdown and is projected to hit the economy up to two trillion dollars by this year. This impact could have a major repercussion on agriculture as well. The impacts on the market while following the safety precautions to be safe from this pandemic have caused the slowdown of the sale of agriculture commodities and inputs. The agriculture sector which contributes to about one-third of GDP is and will be a dominant sector for generating employment in Nepal so the rapid response is indeed to take this crisis as an opportunity to protect and rejuvenate existing agriculture.

 

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Gham Power (GP), a solar-based social enterprise in Nepal, is developing and providing the technology to rural farmers with the motive to enhance livelihood and income of them through Solar Water Pumping Systems (SWPS) with a value-added free agri-advisory service. We give the topmost priority to our end-customers; regularly follow our farmers through the digital platform ’Off-Grid Bazaar’ and telephone communication to hear about the status of our system. We regularly monitor their improvement and field conditions after installing our system through phone calls and GP smart meter respectively. In this state of crisis, as our end-customers are likely to be affected through different reasons, we followed our farmers to hear their experiences. 

 

Experience from our customers

 

43 years old Mahadi Devi Chaudhary, who recently installed our Solar Water Pumping Systems (SWPS) in her farm, remembers her hardships during the blockade following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. She paid as much as NRs. 400, almost 5 times the regular rate for the crude oil to run her diesel water pumps. At present in the crisis of coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, the SWPS has cut off her dependency on diesel and she thanks herself for taking the right decision on time by installing the Gham Power’s SWPS a month before lockdown in Nepal. She is venturing into a new plantation of crops from this spring and wants to utilize the system and agri-advisory service provided by Gham Power to derive the utmost benefit, but she is worried about not getting agricultural inputs like quality seeds and fertilizers at this time and selling the harvest in near future if this situation further prevails.

 

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The resident of Kanchanpur, Laljhadi, 54 years Khadak Bahadur Chaudhary who installed our system witnessed, over the years, things gradually changed and the uncertainties of rainfall and drought situation were solved. He used the electric pump during the years of peak load shedding in Nepal, his 1.5 ha farming enterprise nearly bankrupted because of 18 hours long power cut. He shifted to diesel pumps to mitigate this effect. During the 6 months blockade in Nepal, his production was decreased by two-thirds because of a halt in irrigation due to a shortage of diesel oil and he was unable to afford the spiked cost of it. 

“At this moment, I do not need to worry and wait for sky rain for irrigation as I have a remote to control water according to the need of my fish pond and a mobile phone where I can get effective agri-advisory service from Gham Power that guides me in handling my farm,” says Chaudhary. But he is worried about the uncertainty of this pandemic situation as he is not able to get feed for his fishes though he is getting an agri-advisory for making artificial feed from grains and other ingredients available at home that will last for certain time only.

 

Kanchanpur Farmer

 

“Till date, I have no fear of prevailing coronavirus pandemic; as crops are growing in my farm, but I am worried about the future because of the uncertainty of this blowing situation,” says Chij Mani Tharu, 46 years old farmer and customer of Gham Power from Raptisonari Rural Municipality who installed SWPS a month before lockdown. He is growing vegetables during this drought by irrigating through our pump and is expecting to earn NRs. 130,000 by selling the harvest out of his farm. He is planning to venture into new crops during the spring but is worried about getting quality seeds and fertilizers at this time of lockdown. There is no grid line supply at his place till date. He used to irrigate his farm through diesel pumps before installing our system. He is thankful to Gham Power for providing this system and Janautthan for investing in it. 

Shanti Devi Chaudhary, 48 years old farmer from Dhangadhi has another story to share. “My husband used to travel about 24 km weekly on a bike to bring 10-liter diesel to operate the diesel pump for irrigation,” she shares her story of hardships before installing our system. “We thought that solar energy can only be used for lighting our home. We were not aware of the fact that it could also be used to pump water until we saw this technology from Gham Power,” adds Chaudhary. The agri-advisory SMSs sent on her husband’s phone have helped them make farming decisions, and they are now planning to start the cultivation of new crops from next farming season. At the present situation of strict lockdown, she is selling her produce by going door to door in her community with the support of her two daughters but they are worried about the supply of fertilizers and quality seeds of vegetables and corn for the next season. She is expecting the normal days to come so that she would be able to carry day-day agriculture activities and make income to pay the installment of the system on time. The technology of Gham Power has been a strong support for her family and she feels proud of her wisest decision.

 

Collective Effort to tackle this crisis

 

The COVID-19 pandemic may even bring a risk of greater toll – food scarcity and hunger, so immediate actions should be taken to minimize the disruptions to the food supply chain. Prevention costs less. We are recommending farmers to sell their harvests locally through social network platforms like Facebook and Imo following the safety precautions as the government has allowed safety sales of agriculture commodities. We have advised them to process the surplus production for future use. Fish farmers are advised for integrated fish farming and to make artificial feed out of the ingredients that are available at home.

Although the adoption of solar irrigation has helped some farmers to reduce the overall impact of the COVID lockdown to some extent, more comprehensive initiatives should be brought by the central and local government and policy makers to ensure the easy availability of agri-inputs and the safe environment and coordination to facilitate the sale of farm produce so that farmers resume their agriculture activities. The stimulus package should be rolled out during this stage for bolstering farmers morally. Gham Power with its investors has approached for shifting the installments payment for one month considering the situation that our end-customers face during this stage of the crisis.

This crisis, unfortunately, is only a glimpse of what our farmers could face; they are already grappling with the climate crisis. The effort to fight the dire effects of climate change and increase food security through renewable energy and in the meantime our product and service has been a boon to farmers to tackle some of the pandemic related crises.