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Unlocking Opportunities Through Sugarcane

Unlocking Opportunities Through Sugarcane


Balmi, a small village in Kanchanpur district of Far-West Nepal has endured severe and repetitive floods. The flood sources are recognized to be Doda river – tributaries of Bhayli river and Macheli river. Major disastrous floods in 2007 and 2008 caused colossal damage that forced farmers to abandon the village.

Rakti Rana, a 55 year-old social leader and present chairman of Agriculture collection center of Laljhadi, Kanchanpur shared, “In 20 September, 2008, our village was ravaged by the worst flooding in its history. I watched my house collapse right in front of me. The entire village- including livestock and livelihood washed away. More than 200 bighas (approx. 136 hectares) of fertile land was covered by several feet of water. Somehow we managed to save our lives.”

For the past 13 years, International humanitarian organization – Mercy Corps has been supporting communities of far-west region. Currently under its program, Managing Risk Through Economic Development (MRED) together with Red Cross society, it has been helping various communities’ locals to cope up with devastating natural disasters through bio-engineering work and riverbed farming while also uplifting their economic status.

“In 2015, MRED II introduced bamboo work for bio-engineering purposes and sugarcane for riverbed farming as an alternative method to disaster risk mitigation. We were encouraged to plant bamboo and napier grasses on embankments and sugarcane on riverbanks. Bamboos, cane setts, along with fertilizer and pesticides were distributed among locals of 104 households.” shares Rana.

Rakti Rana in his Sugarcane field, Kanchanpur.
Rakti Rana in his Sugarcane field, Kanchanpur.

It is scientifically proven that sugarcane has potential to serve as a disaster risk mitigation measure. A study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists shows that sugarcane can tolerate flooded conditions for up to two weeks as its roots go deeper into the ground and the crop grows close to each other. It has also got quality to offset the effect of soil erosion. Furthermore, cane has a good market value and demand.

Sugarcane farming has also enabled barren land to cultivate different cash crops. Rana’s share of profit from sugarcane cultivation in previous biennium was over NPR. 1,00,000/-.  This year, Rana cultivated paddy and wheat in three bigha (approx. 2.04 hectare) land each, which earned him NPR. 45,000/- and NPR 1,00,000/- respectively. From the amount earned he bought an additional one and half Katha (approx. 0.045 hectare) land. He also opened a small grocery store to generate additional income which is run by his younger son.

Migrant worker-turned-farmer, Hari Narayan Rana.
Migrant worker-turned-farmer, Hari Narayan Rana.

“It rained all night, suddenly the next day, the river burst its bank, it was terrifying. We had no place to evacuate. So we stayed on the top floor of our raised storehouse. After a few hours, floodwaters gradually receded and gave us penury.” recalls Hari Narayan Rana, 35, a migrant worker who now turned into farmer.

Farmers who fled when the river burst its banks are now returning to the village. With the support from MRED II and the local government, they are now firm to build their life better than before.

An early warning system is also initiated by the program. SMS service is operated to inform locals about potential flood threats before happening. By doing so, the locals can have sufficient time to protect their valuables and evacuate towards safe locations.

“I’d really like to thank MRED II and everyone who helped me and my family. We had nothing and it was this knowledge, capacity-building training and aid that gave us the will to carry on. We feel safe. Now, I am determined to stay in my homeland with my family and prevent future disasters.” added Hari Narayan Rana.

Balmi is one of the examples that integrating livelihood interventions into disaster risk reduction can serve not only to enhance the economic state of vulnerable communities but also mitigate the effects of disasters when they occur, resulting in long-term, sustainable benefits.