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Problem Identification and Approach to Sustainable Development

by J.B. Abington and N.J.L. Clinch


The increasingly precarious situation facing the world's mountain regions has been the focus of a growing level of awareness over the past two decades. The high altitude regions of Nepal offer a challenge to agricultural development agencies which is shared by many hill areas of the world characterised by marginality, extreme diversity, environmental fragility and complex smallholder farming systems.

There is justifiable concern relating to the conservation of hill and mountain ecosystems, to the extent that the concept of sustainability has been adopted as a broad slogan by the environmental movement (Lele, 1991)

At the continental level, the Himalaya-Ganges-Bhramaputra system has come under increasing pressure as one of the world's largest highland-lowland interactive systems. The destructive cycle of events emanates from increased population growth in the Himalayan region over the past few decades (See Table 1). As well as an underlying reduction in the overall death rate, and improved living conditions causing population growth to accelerate since 1850, recent birth control programmes have had little impact (Metz, 1991). Conditions specific to mountain regions, such as inaccessibility and diversity have placed a high premium on large families, encouraging population growth. Children are essential to family subsistence strategies offering free labour, and they are consequently considered to be a source of wealth. Population control measures in these regions have ignored this scenario (Sharma and Banskota 1990, cited in Jodha, 1991).

Table 1: Population change in Nepal.

YearTotal PopulationAnnual Growth Rate
1850  3,063,300-
1911  5,638,749-
1920  5,573,788-0.13
1930  5,532,574-0.07
1941  6,283,6491.16
1952–54  8,361,1942.20
1961  9,471,3501.78

Source: Metz (1991); HMG (N) Dept. Statistics (1991)

Increased population generates an increased demand for cropland, and for firewood, both resulting in deforestation. As the distance required to walk to collect firewood increases, so the critical threshold is reached when households resort to the use of animal manure as fuel, so depriving the cropping systems of their major source of fertilizer, weakening soil structure and decreasing yields (Ives and Messerli, 1984).

This situation, allied to the reduction in ground cover and the stabilising influence of tree roots leads to surface erosion, landslides, mass wasting, flooding and sedimentation. Subsequent decline in the overall systems productivity is inevitable.

This oversimplification ignores the complexity of the reasons that cause deforestation, and avoids the more recent proposals that the effects of deforestation are probably less severe than originally thought (Metz, 1991). However, there is little doubt that the Himalayan systems of subsistence agriculture are undergoing a process of rapid change that relate to persistent negative trends in the variables relating to the health of the natural resource base, the productivity of land based activities and management practices of the region (Jodha, 1991). The migration of crop production into more marginal and forest cleared areas, as well as the uncontrolled grazing of ruminant animals beyond the carrying capacity of the land (Subedi, 1990) are merely examples of these negative trends, resulting to a large degree from the inherent characteristics of mountain environments.

Conventional answers to this problem would lie in the use of inorganic fertilizer and high yielding varieties (Balogun et al., 1988). Whilst this has been the professed Government approach, the emphasis of the strategy is skewed towards road accessible areas which have access to irrigation, and where there is scope for large increases in production. In the hills, the farmers will continue to rely upon traditional sources of nutrients for the maintenance of soil fertility.

The economy of Nepal is so heavily dependent upon its natural resource base, that serious environmental threats that tend to degrade this base, notably deforestation and soil erosion are now being afforded the attention they deserve. Given this situation of rapid environmental degradation and consequent declining production levels, the unsustainability of the mountain environment (Jodha, 1991) and the development of sustainable agricultural systems are a priority issue.


Though attention was called to these issues, little emphasis was placed upon their resolution by national agricultural systems. This was not the result of a lack of awareness of the situation, but was a consequence of the national policies of the Government and donor agencies at that time. Formal Government involvement in agricultural development in Nepal can be traced back to 1924, with the formation of a Department of Agriculture, and the opening of a demonstration farm at Singha Durbar in the Kathmandu Valley (Yadav, 1987). It is only since the 1950's, following the formal opening of the country's borders, that the systematic development of agriculture in the plains, hills and mountains of Nepal has been intensified. Policy was defined under a series of Five Year Development Plans, the first of which was initiated in 1955. First priority was given to developing the agriculture of the Terai Plains, which at the time was considered a logical decision, based upon ease of access to the area, cheaper costs of construction of infrastructural facilities such as roads, and the nearness of the markets of northern India, both for obtaining inputs and the export of commodities. This strategy ignored the agriculture of the hills and mountains, apart from some livestock development in the mountains, and horticultural production of high value enterprises such as off-season vegetables and vegetable seed production in the hills. The effect of this concentration upon the development of the Terai has been to cause considerable migration of people out of the hills to exploit the better agricultural opportunities on the plains, following the clearing of the forests and the eradication of malaria. Population in the Terai is still increasing at a rate of 4.2% per annum, contrasting with that in the hills of 1.6%, and a national average of 2.1% p.a. In spite of outward migration from the hills, and according to official statistics a reduction in population per unit area, the land area under cultivation in the hills has continued to increase. This has exerted a detrimental effect upon areas of remaining natural forests through encroachment of arable cropping into ever more marginal areas, and there is now serious concern over the sustainability of traditional hill farming practices in the longer term.

Fig. 1: Projected decline in forest areas.

Fig. 1

Present government policies towards agricultural development reflect those of the recently concluded Seventh Five Year Plan (1985–1990), though they have largely been superceded by the Basic Needs Programme launched in 1987. The purpose of the latter was to focus attention upon and direct policies for the Eighth and Ninth Five Year Plans, with the objective of meeting specific targets in the six human requisites of food, clothing, shelter, health, education and security by the year 2000. The Programme focuses upon increasing the average daily calorie consumption from 1850 to 2250, and this implies that annual food grain production must grow at 4.8% annually from the 1984/85 figure. Because land available for new cultivation is now very limited, then most of this increase will have to derive from improved yields, which will have to be increased by 3.7 % per annum.

For agricultural development, the Basic Needs Programme targets are as follows:

The Eighth Five Year Plan defines some of the short term strategies which are to be adopted, and which go towards achieving the longer term objectives of the Basic Needs Programme. These can be summarised as follows:

Against the background of these policies, the constraints to their achievement have to be considered. Kayastha et al (1989) identified technological constraints to the development of agriculture in Nepal on the basis of both agro-ecological zone and development strategy.

For the former, the limitations to development in the mountains were the harsh agro-ecological conditions of the fragile environment, the widely scattered population settlements, poor transportation and communication facilities, and the almost total lack of markets for produce.

In the hills, the complex farming systems with the individual components being integrated and interdependent, inadequate plant nutrients for the achievement of high yields, and lack of irrigation facilities to exploit the land to best advantage are identified restrictions. Added to these, weather conditions are often adverse and can result in total crop failure from hail, flood or landslide. Under both these environments, lack of farmer knowledge about improved technology, and scarcity of labour and animal draught power at peak field operation periods, further erodes the potential to optimize production and yields.

By contrast, because of more uniform agro-climatic and edaphic conditions, the constraints to production in the Terai, are usually socio-economic and infrastructural, such as untimely and/or insufficient delivery of inputs, inadequacy of the extension services in promoting new technology and advice, and a lack of price incentives to producers. The last is especially important in view of the closeness of the Indian border, and the virtually unlimited market prospects that are available if the Terai farmers are not satisfied with local producer prices.

Some of the strategic/policy constraints to past development of hill agriculture identified by Kayastha et al (1989) have been noted above, such as the previous concentration of agricultural development effort in the Terai, but these authors also highlight weak planning and co-ordination at the field level, and the lack of good linkages between agricultural research and extension services, as being responsible for ineffective dissemination of new technologies where they have been available, and the consequent stagnation of agricultural production in the hills.


As noted above, priority was given to development of agriculture in the Terai. Both agricultural research and extension efforts followed traditional practices, such as varietal improvement through introduction, plant breeding and testing under different fertilizer regimes, and the dissemination of this improved technology through the Training and Visit, or Block Production Systems. This policy was not without success as evidenced by increases in production in the Terai particularly of wheat.

In the Hill Districts, beginning in 1968 in the Western Region, and 1972 in the Eastern Region, two projects were established at Lumle and Pakhribas respectively, by the British Government at the request of His Majesty's Government of Nepal. The initial objective of both projects was to offer training in improved agricultural methods to Gurkha soldiers upon their retirement from the British Army. By 1975 it was apparent that simply teaching improved methods of farming to a select minority was inadequate to meet the perceived problems of hill farmers generally. The objectives of both projects were therefore changed to provide agricultural research, extension and training services for all farmers within the two projects'Extension Command Areas (ECAs). In the case of Lumle, this was for 25 selected panchayats (sic) within parts of the three Hill Districts of Kaski, Parbat and Myagdi within the Western Development Region. Though the case studies and description of the procedures which follow, particularly refer to the experiences of Lumle Centre, they have also been adopted and implemented at Pakhribas with equal success, and can be considered to serve as an effective model for adoption elswhere.

The “traditional” method of agricultural research and extension in developing countries concentrated upon the single subject approach, and though results could be very impressive where commodity cash crops were concerned, these successes were often achieved at the expense of other farming enterprises such as food security. Under these circumstances, the overall welfare of rural communities often became highly dependent upon the vagaries of world commodity prices, often with disastrous consequences when these fell to a low level.

During the past decade, the concept of “Farming Systems Research” and adoption of a “Multidisciplinary Approach” towards solving smallholder farming problems have become the prevailing philosophy. These procedures rely upon people of different specialist subject matter disciplines working together as a team with the active participation of the farmers concerned to identify the technical, economic, social, political and other constraints which they are faced with. The methodologies and the results that have been achieved, have been summarised in numerous technical papers and books by such authors as Hildebrand (1981), Collinson (1987), Farrington and Martin (1988) and Chambers et al (1989).

The experiences of Lumle between 1975 and the present have supported this change of concept and emphasis. Sthapit et al (1988) made a case study of the development of the processes of change in methodology adopted to determine, analyse and prioritise the problems of hill farming in Nepal. Initially, the extension programme adopted the “traditional” approach, with extension agents being trained as subject matter specialists. However, farmers in the ECA were quick to complain that this was unsatisfactory, because they had to consult numbers of different people to obtain the advice they required. The extension agents were then retrained to be multidisciplinary in their approach, and though this met with initial satisfaction from the farmers, the extension agents themselves complained that it was difficult to cope with a multidisciplinary role, when the technology they were disseminating was organised along single disciplinary lines. At this time, 1982, research at Lumle was still carried out “on-station” and problems being investigated were those perceived by the researchers themselves. Therefore, Lumle Centre was obliged to alter its strategy in acknowledgement that its agricultural research procedures were not appropriate to the prevailing situation, and to adopt an “on-farm” rather than “on-station” approach to problem solution.


Subsequent to this major change adopted in research strategy, Lumle Centre has formalised and refined the procedures for problem identification, prioritisation and investigation into an effective and replicable technique.

The first stage is problem identification for which a form of Rapid Rural Appraisal is adopted. This is known locally in Nepal as Samuhik Bhraman, which literally means “travelling together”. For this, scientists from different subject matter disciplines from Lumle and National Commodity Programmes as appropriate, Agricultural Extensionists, officials from Statutory Bodies involved with agricultural development, and Non-Governmental Organisations, are invited to participate. Though the objectives will vary, the methodology adopted for Samuhik Bhramans is based upon three principles. These are first, to visit as many farmers as possible in the time available and question them about their constraints to production, resource availability and use. Second, the overall group is subdivided into smaller units consisting of mixed subject disciplines, both for ease of interviewing farmers without intimidation, and obtaining wide coverage. The composition of these groups is changed at regular intervals, and at minimum on a daily basis. Third, as much in-field discussion as possible is promoted, combined with extensive note-taking, and a draft report is written in the field, the salient points of which are discussed with the farmers again, so that the priorities can be provisionally assigned before returning to the Centre. Based upon this report, priorities for research are assigned, and programmes for their investigation are developed.

Use of this technique on numbers of occasions at different locations, has enabled numerous problems to be identified. However, three consistent themes persistently recur at a majority of the places visited, which are common to both the entire altitude range within Lumle's ECA, and all ethnic and social groupings consulted. These are that farmers perceive a steady decline in soil fertility, a shortage of fodder availability, and the lack of cash income generating opportunities from Hill agriculture. These three themes have therefore been developed into a second stage of research methodology as cross-disciplinary Research ‘Thrusts’.

Each ‘Thrust’ is composed of a core group of scientists, whose members come from the various specialist sections which have an interest in the problem being investigated. The group itself elects a co-ordinator, whose responsibility it is to liaise with the other members, and to be responsible for supervision of the investigative work programmes. Within the group, an individual can contribute his or her subject-matter speciality towards the overall goal of solving the problem, but at the same time is aware of, and is co-operating with, members of other disciplines. Through this process, the individual scientist becomes aware of other aspects of constraints that the farmer may be facing, and will take into account the effect of any new specialist recommendation upon the overall farming system. This approach may be considered truly multidisciplinary, because the ‘Thrust’ team members work together to assign priorities for research, and design, implement and report trials as a group. This concept is represented diagramatically in Figure 2.


In order to develop and disperse new technology, research programmes are implemented at three sequential levels. The first is “On-Centre” at Lumle, and involves that stage of technology generation where either an hypothesis is being tested or a fundamental principle is being established. This stage usually involves either a large element of risk, which it would not be justified to expose a farmer to, or there is a need for very detailed record taking, which could not be achieved from trials conducted under farm conditions. Examples of such work are development of new techniques for propagation of fodder trees, or the effect of new rations upon the milk yields of large ruminants.

Figure 2: Research methodology in use at Lumle Regional Agricultural Research Centre.

Source: Adapted from Joshi et al (1990).

Figure 2

Note: “Extension” covers Training, Information and Extension.

The second stage is the establishment of “Off-Station Research Sites”, where work is carried out at the farm level with the co-operation of farmers, but there still remains a high level of research scientist input and supervision. At this stage the trials will be to field test the technology developed from “On-Centre” work. Examples would be the establishment and rate of growth of different fodder tree species from seedlings raised under traditional vs new management conditions, or the effects upon livestock production of feeding ensiled crop residues vs traditional utilization of rice straw. These Off-Station sites are regarded as a temporary intervention, and experience has shown that on average, involvement lasts for around five years, after which time the farmers begin to devote their efforts full time to implementing what has been demonstrated and are less willing to carry out experiments.

Choice of site to date has been based upon attempts to define ‘Recommendation Domains’, but this is a difficult concept to develop in a mountainous country like Nepal, where almost every individual valley is unique in terms of aspect, soil-type, micro-climate and availability of water for irrigation. The most obvious domain is that of altitude, so the six presently operating Off-Station Research Sites, were chosen primarily on this criterion, and by prevalent cropping patterns. While the criteria for choice are subjective, when an area is chosen attention is paid to agroecological characteristics, such as rainfall, altitude, aspect, fodder and fuelwood availability, and socioeconomic factors such as dominant caste or ethnic group, communications, and access to agricultural services and markets.

In making the final choice for a site, the area is surveyed by Samuhik Bhraman before the choice is made. No capital infrastructure is developed at the site, but office/housing accomodation is rented, and a site co-ordinator and support staff are appointed. The work at the site involves all the technical sections, and so far as is compatible with the prevailing farming conditions components of one of the Research ‘Thrusts’ are investigated. The major issue at this level of technology generation is that the impact is being measured and analysed within the local farming system, and in co-operation with farmers. Once it is established that the new technology has definite advantages over current practices, and is acceptable to the farmer, the third stage can be implemented.

This third stage of technology generation is referred to as ‘Research Outreach’, and involves direct co-operation and interaction between research scientists, extension agents and farmers. At this level, responsibility for testing and implementing the technology on a wider scale at the farm level devolves back to the relevant subject related discipline, through a particular Section's Research Outreach Officer. In conjunction with the local Agricultural Extension Service a particular village or community will co-operate, usually because the farmers have expressed a wish to improve their farming practices by adopting improved technology. The field methodology is to carry out simple trials which can also act as demonstrations. At this stage, there is relatively little involvement of the research scientist in the actual field work, and most is carried out by the farmer. Throughout the duration of the trial, discussions are held at regular intervals with the farmers, to obtain and evaluate their comments and criticisms. Additionally, Farmers' Field Days are held jointly with the Extension Services to more widely demonstrate the technology and obtain additional feedback. There is thus a great deal of farmer participation in the process of technology generation.


Agricultural extension can be defined as the process of persuading farmers to adopt new or alternative technology. The transfer of new technology to smallholder agriculturalists is never an easy task for many reasons, not least of which is the ingrained knowledge based upon personal experience, and that of previous generations, that unless there is a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster, the prevailing system will provide the wherewithal to survive from one year to the next. Unless the farmer perceives that new technology can be successfully assimilated into the existing system, and result in increased benefits or returns, it is unlikely to be adopted.

Agricultural extension in Nepal has had a varied history. Sinha (1990), and Chitrakar (1990) summarised the various approaches that have been tried through a number of projects funded by different donor agencies over the past twenty years. These have included Small Farmer Development, Integrated Rural Development, the Training and Visit system, Tuki System, and Parastatal Extension Agents such as Agricultural Assistants. Some of these approaches have been more successful than others, with most of the success being achieved in the Terai where logistical constraints are fewer, but Sinha (1990) concluded that “the various approaches to agricultural/rural development being implemented in the country have induced the sense of feeling of a multitudeness of extension systems in policy makers, agricultural technicians and farmers”, and that “their efficiency and impact on the quality and quantity of intended programmes have yet to be seen”.

In corroboration of these opinions is the fact that agricultural extension and development within the hill districts of Nepal is particularly difficult. Subedi (1990) noted the causes of this as being that “superimposed upon the diversity of agricultural production are logistical difficulties, such as lack of transportation, poor communication, and inaccessibility to markets and other supporting infrastructure”. Therefore, to successfully overcome these particular limitations, the “traditional” concepts that new technology developed from agricultural research programmes should be dispersed to the farmer through a separate extension service, have been modified to suit the special circumstances of the hill farmers. The procedures adopted by Lumle in the Western Region, and Pakhribas in the Eastern Region of Nepal have been similar, and those of Pakhribas have been summarised by Thapa et al (1988).

Since its inception in 1968, Lumle has been closely involved with its clientéle. In 1975, the mandate was changed from one of simply training, to the wider function of research extension and training for all farmers of its ECA.

The prevailing philosophy is to promote direct contact and interaction between Research Scientist, Extension Agent and the farmer. There is a direct flow of information from the Research Scientist developing the new technology to the farmer, and the provision of agricultural inputs in support of this technology is also the Centre's responsibility. This close involvement of researcher, extension worker, and the farmer has over the years developed into a successful partnership, the advantage of which is that the farmers are now willing to participate in new technology development, and the scientists have come to respect the opinions and criticisms of the farmers as being valuable to their own work.

For livestock and forestry, the main means of technology transfer is through the formation of Livestock Development Committees and Forestry User Groups. Within these organisations, the farmers themselves decide what policies they wish to implement, and it is the Staff of Lumle, both extension workers and scientists who provide the technical advice and also the necessary inputs to enable them to proceed with their chosen enterprise. Using these methods, many farmers have now adopted the use of cross bred buffalo based upon the Indian Murrah breed, and local cattle crossed with the Jersey breed.

An essential component of the extension process is training. Lumle and Pakhribas Centres have retained a strong training component within their makeup. Experience gained over the years has shown that it is essential to teach only those technologies which are relevant to the farmers' own problems and situation, and which will integrate with their farming systems and practices. Within the last two years, research has begun into the effectiveness of different agricultural extension methods, comparing traditional methods of technology transfer, such as through extension field agents, or On-Centre Training Courses, with utilising leading farmers who have already adopted the technology as the teachers. Not surprisingly perhaps, initial results show that it is the last who are the most effective in dispersing the extension message, both in terms of technology transfer, and in cost effectiveness.

In addition to operating its own Extension Area, Lumle has also been given research responsibility for the eleven Hill Districts of the Western Development Region in what constitutes its Research Command Area (RCA). Within this wider area the Technology Transfer is effected through the HMG(N) Regional Extension Services. This is a more difficult task, because within the bureaucratic structure of the Government, responsibility for wider agricultural extension is vested in several different Departments within the overall Ministry of Agriculture, there being Departments of Agriculture, Horticulture and Livestock, each of which is responsible for its own technology transfer. Responsibility for Forestry rests with a totally separate Ministry. The result is that there is little contact or liaison between these various services, and the approach towards hill farm development is fragmented, and does not effectively take into account the integrated role of all these components in the hill farming systems. However, the policy recently announced for the Eighth Five Year Plan is to restore the extension function under a single “umbrella” organisation.

The major challenge of this situation is therefore to develop communication linkages. Subedi (1990) defined five subsystems of communication between research scientist, extension worker and the farmer through which technology could be spread (see Figure 3). Lumle's method of working both with the Government Extension Services, and with other projects involved in Rural Development has been to establish formal links, which detail the responsibilities of the various organisations involved. Within the terms of these documents, are specified regular bimonthly meetings between the research scientists and extension agents to develop common policies and programmes for the spread of new technology. Specific “Impact Points” which involve the Researcher, Extensionist and farmer are drafted and implemented, these being directed at resolving particular constraints. Their success or failure is reported at subsequent meetings, so that there is rapid feedback as to the appropriateness and acceptance of the particular technology under test. In this way, it is possible for Research Scientists to make a direct contribution through co-operation with other agencies, and the role of the research outreach programmes previously described is particularly important in this respect. None of these methodologies are relevant, unless they can be sustained, so the concept of sustainability, with particular reference to the situation in Nepal will now be considered.

Figure 3: LRARC's communication and linkage patterns in different sub-systems.


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Source: Subedi (1990).


A significant body of literature has built up concerning the definition, interpretation and measurement of the concept of sustainability. Most definitions fall into one of three distinct categories: ethics, agroecology and sustainable growth. Ethical definitions focus upon sustainability in terms of equity, especially intergenerational equity and the rights of non-human species. Agroecological definitions focus upon system resilience and in this sense, sustainability is enhanced by increasing system diversity and by fostering nutrient and energy cycling.

Sustainable growth (described by IUCN (1991) as a contradiction in terms since nothing can grow indefinitely), focuses on the need for continued growth in agricultural productivity while maintaining the quality of resources devoted to agriculture. It implies that renewable resources are utilised at rates less than the rate at which they can be regenerated, and that the efficiency with which they are used is optimised (Harrington, 1991).

FAO (1991) combines all these categories by defining sustainable agricultural and rural development as ‘the management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change, in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations’. This itself is a refinement of the definition of sustainable development by the Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, cited in Conroy, 1989).

Perhaps more realistically, Jodha (1991) maintains that given the persistent negative trends in variables relating to the natural resource base, production flow, and management, agriculture in mountain areas is faced with unsustainability prospects.

Similar to the problems of defining the concept, coping with unsustainability, or achieving sustainable development in the hills and mountains is a daunting prospect. Furthermore, to operationalise the concept, some method of quantification is considered desirable by some, and critical by others (Hildebrand and Ashraf, 1989, cited in Harrington, 1991).

Certain proponents of sustainability are content with directional measurements, i.e. one that measures only the direction of change in the sustainability of a system, not the magnitude of that change (Harrington, 1991). This viewpoint is attractive when the relationship between control and state variables is proportional. However, with the Nepalese Hill situation, in which population growth can be considered as a control variable, Metz (1991) has stated that the relationship between environmental degradation and human growth is neither simple nor linear. This would imply that simple directional measurements may be unsuitable.

Measurement of trends in system yields or outputs can be misleading given the host of reasons that may cause variation, but are unrelated to the trend in resource quality. Per capita production offers an alternative in subsistence systems. Monteith (nd, cited in Harrington, 1991) stated that ‘if a system is sustainable over a defined period, outputs do not decrease when inputs are not increased’. However, this approach is generally enterprise specific and hinges on the ability to hold input levels constant. Given the integration of individual enterprises in the Hills, this may be inappropriate.

Changes in total factor productivity have been widely utilised for the purposes of empirical measurement of the effect of technological change, and this method has been used in Nepal to measure the sustainability of cropping systems in the Terai Plains.


Negative trends as indicators of unsustainability are presented in Table 2. Whilst to a degree, indicators of sustainability could be considered as the inverse of those changes presented in the table, further clarification is appropriate.

IUCN (1991) suggested that to measure progress towards sustainability, indicators of quality of life and ecological sustainability are required. The former utilises a Human Development Index (HDI), which has three components, namely life expectancy at birth, adult literacy and mean years of schooling, and per capita Gross Domestic Product. Ecological sustainability indicators should relate progress with regard to the conservation of ecological life support systems and biodiversity, should ensure that renewable resources are sustained and the depletion of non-renewable resources minimised, and should ensure that the carrying capacity of supported ecosystems is not exceeded.

Logical indicators to the sustainability of animal production systems include yield and production trends, levels of genetic diversity within domestic species, increased or stable levels of diversity of enterprises, limited extraction from locality, stabilised inputs with increased/stable output, increased areas of regenerated growth and cultivated land, decreases in eroded, overgrazed and degenerated land, and increased availability of agricultural products.

Table 2: Negative Changes as Indicators of Unsustainability of Mountain Agriculture

Visibility of ChangeChanges Related to:
Natural Resource BaseProduction FlowsResource Use/Management Practice
DIRECTLY VISIBLE CHANGESIncreased lands lides and other forms of land degradation; abandoned terraces; fragmentation of land; changed otanic composition of forest/pasture; reduced water-flow for irrigation and domestic use.Prolonged negative trend in crop, livestock yields; increased input per unit output; increased time and distance to gather food, fuel and fodder; lower per capita availability of agricultural productsReduced fallowing, crop rotation, intercropping, diversified enterprises; cropping of sub-marginal land; unbalanced and high intensity of input use.
CHANGES CONCEALED BY RESPONSES TO CHANGESSubstitution of: cattle by sheep/goat, deep-rooted by shallow rooted crops; shift to non-local inputs; substitution of water flow by fossil fuel for grinding mills; and substitution of manure by chemical fertilizers.Increased seasonal migration; introduction of externally supported public distribution system; intensive cash cropping on limited areas.Shifts in cropping pattern and composition of livestock; reduced diversity; increased specialisation in monocropping.

Source: Jodha (1991).


For the purposes of this publication, the quantification of sustainability is at an early stage of development. All the same, it is necessary to outline strategies to operationalise sustainable animal production, and to pinpoint indicators that suggest whether sustainable animal production technologies are effective.

Coping with unsustainability requires action on both the supply and demand side of the problem. Boserup (1981, cited in Metz, 1991) has suggested that agricultural intensification will take place in response to the growth of the population dependant upon it. Certainly, increasing production from hill environments necessitates the intensification of resource use without resource degradation (Schroeder, 1985; Jodha, 1991). On the demand side, consideration must be given to balancing the pressure on mountain resources with their carrying capacity.

Since agriculture is the major activity at the human-environment interface, attempts at operationalising ecological sustainability have focused on agricultural development (Lele, 1991). However, to date most development strategies have paid more attention to the supply side, with little consideration for the demands upon the system.

For watershed stability, the misuse of livestock is particularly damaging (Pereira, 1989). The importance of animals as nutrient recyclers has led to an increased population of ruminant stock on grazing and forest land that has long exceeded its carrying capacity. Overgrazing rapidly eliminates palatable, nutritious grass and shrub species. Forested areas, vital for the stability of steep mountain slopes, have been depleted as they have been harvested beyond their regenerative capabilities.

Demand pressure on the system can be relieved by reducing population pressure through the generation of off-farm activities, and by the regulation of external demands for products.

Whilst it is considered unlikely that even large attempts at reforestation will have a significant impact on rates of erosion (Metz, 1991), meeting the vegetation requirements of hill farmers remains a major task. Farmers themselves have already responded by planting fodder on their own land, and private and community planting of fodder, as well as perennial multipurpose trees and shrubs should be encouraged. With the forests now reverting to local management, land-use decisions are effectively back in the hands of the farmer. Hence, initiatives to balance demand and carrying capacity should focus on farmers themselves to utilise resources and their own knowledge to develop sustainable systems.

Several options are available to counter the damage caused by overgrazing, including a reduction in livestock numbers through increased marketed offtake, sterilisation and culling, or controlling livestock movements by switching to stall-fed systems for milk and meat production.

Resource use intensification for higher productivity without resource degradation will involve the introduction of improved breeds which will allow farmers to maintain output levels with fewer animals. Similarly, improved animal health reduces mortality rates and allows fewer animals to be maintained. Although this may imply a reduction in manure output, the gradual transition of large ruminant husbandry to stall feeding systems will not only improve production but will also enable larger quantities of manure to be collected and composted. This will relieve pressure on fodder resources. Small ruminants, especially sheep which are more suited to extensive grazing and migratory systems will then be able to take more benefit from the relatively fragile marginal areas.

It has already been noted (Harrington, 1991) that the achievement of ecological sustainability is enhanced by diversity of enterprises. By this criterion, traditional subsistence systems of agriculture in Nepal, which are characterised by crop, variety, and management complexity (Schroeder, 1985), and by interdependence of the crop, livestock and forest component of the whole system, are relatively sustainable. Jacobs (1987) concluded that the integration of crop and animal resources is vital in ensuring sustained productivity. It follows therefore that policies which advocate a change from traditional systems will necessarily compromise sustainability. Although adjustment may be required due to changing populations, land pressure and socio-political forces, it should be possible to modify and build on traditional practices. Livestock management adapting traditional methods and working in concert with the natural ecosystem will not only be more likely to be successful, but will also enhance the natural resource base upon which it depends and in so doing contribute to a sustainable agricultural system.

With regard to these technical strategies, specific indicators of sustainability would include total factor productivity (output over input), change in livestock management systems towards stall feeding of large ruminants, increased areas of community and private planting, increase in per unit area of land and livestock unit productivity, income generating capability, decrease in time and distance required to collect fodder, increased standard of living and educational level, increased degree of market orientation, and success rates of committee/group development.

Lele (1991) emphasised that agricultural sustainability depends not only on ecological interaction but also on complex social considerations. Farmers must be included in all phases of the development process, and the group approach, which is now integral to the Government of Nepal and other development agencies' extension rationale, must take into account the resource poor and female farmers with regard to composition and to the way in which they operate Kiff (1991).

These issues outlined above are now examined in more detail in the chapters which follow.


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