Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization

Responding to COVID-19 impact in agriculture: The case of Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization in Nepal



 Responding to COVID-19 impact in agriculture:

 The case of Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization in Nepal


 By Mayling Flores Rojas (FAO HQs- Plant Production and Protection Division) and Mahendra Yadav (FAO Nepal)



·       The COVID-19 lockdown in Nepal has impacted smallholder farmers due to the disruption of agricultural inputs, access to markets as well as delays in harvest and planting.

·       The timely availability and accessibility of mechanization services is even more critical for agricultural production due to COVID-19.

·       Increasing the efficiency of the operations along  agri-food chains with adapted sustainable agricultural mechanization can minimize disruptions.

·       The harvest of wheat and lentil in the plains was sped up through the effective coordination of provision of mechanization services to smallholder farmers.

·       The inclusion of women in the planning, identification, and implementation of sustainable agricultural mechanization interventions is a must.

Nepal and its agricultural context

Nepal is in South Asia, classified as a least developed country (LDC) and landlockedcountry[1]. Nepal is divided into three agroecological zones: plains, hills, and mountains.

The country has achieved significant progress on poverty reduction over the last 20 years (from 42 percent in 1991/92 to about 21.6 percent in 2015/2016) (GoN, 2015). This progress has happened under challenging conditions including two major earthquakes, political instability, and trade disruption at the southern border of the country. Moreover, Nepal is highly vulnerable to climate change-induced hazards such as drought, flood, and landslides. These extreme events negatively impact the food and nutrition security of the vulnerable population, including women and children.

Agriculture is a major contributor to Nepal's economy. It accounts for almost one-third of Nepal's total GDP (2014/2015), employs three-quarters of the population and is the key driver to reduce poverty (FAO, 2019; CBS, 2009). Agricultural production is characterized by integrated crop and livestock subsistence farming systems on less than 0.5 hectares of land per household and is reliant on smallholder farmers.

Male out-migration from rural to urban areas or abroad has led to a gradual feminization of agriculture over the years. As a direct consequence, women’s work burden has increased causing poor agricultural performance due to labour scarcity, and lack of access to credit and therefore quality inputs.

Impacts of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers

The implementation of lockdown has affected all sectors in the country including agriculture. The transport system has come to a standstill which hampers the ability for smallholder farmers to sell their products in the markets leading to income and food losses. The disruption on the agricultural inputs supply has caused shortages of seeds, fertilizers, veterinary medicines, and feed for animals. Furthermore, delays in the harvest of wheat and lentils has been reported as well as delays on land preparation for vegetable production (key high-income crops), rice and maize. Delayed planting of spring maize and rice (major crops) can have a long-term effect on the overall agricultural production and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The loss of jobs and incomes as a result of the lockdown has pushed the vulnerable population into further food and nutritional insecurity.

Actions taken by the Government of Nepal to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers


·       The High-Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of COVID-19 constituted by the Government of Nepal (GoN) announced an easing of the transportation of food, essential goods, and supplies. The Committee decided to open food processing industries with health safety measures in place. 

·       Easing lockdown measures in the agriculture sector helped continue agricultural activities. Municipalities were requested to inform smallholder farmers in maintaining social distancing while continuing their farming activities.

·       The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MOALD) has proposed an emergency package of assistance to smallholder farmers cultivating cash crops including vegetables, and raising small-scale livestock, which has been submitted for approval.

·    MOALD unveiled an agriculture development plan consisting of five pillars: subsidy of agricultural inputs, access to low-interest loans, increased technical services, agricultural insurance, and guarantee on minimum savings for smallholder farmers.


The role of sustainable agricultural mechanization to reduce the impact of COVID-19

 The timely availability and accessibility of mechanization services (in addition to quality seeds, fertilizers, irrigation and other agricultural inputs) during the peak periods of labour demand is critical for agricultural production. This has become more prevalent under COVID-19 in which further movement restrictions and transport limitations have exacerbated labour shortages and the agricultural work burden (especially of women). Increasing the efficiency of operations along agri-food chains with adapted agricultural mechanization for activities such as land preparation, seeding, harvesting, drying, threshing, shelling; can translate into food loss reduction and increased incomes of smallholder farmers. The provision of mechanization services in rural communities also creates jobs, (e.g. machinery operators, technicians for repairing and maintaining the machines). The inclusion of women in the planning, identification, and implementation of agricultural mechanization interventions is a must.

 In Nepal, the harvest of two crops (wheat and lentil) in the plains was sped up through coordination among representatives of provinces, municipalities, and smallholder farmers. Agricultural mechanization services were provided with reapers and combine harvesters for facilitation. To be in time for the main planting season (rice and maize), further coordination of mechanization services for land preparation and planting can be in place to address agriculture production challenges. Planting options include direct seeders attached to two-wheel tractors or mini-tillers, drum seeder or jab planters. These tractors are extremely versatile and suitable for a broad set of implements, transportation and as an energy source for water pumping systems and mills. Mechanical or solar dryers reduce the time for drying and reduce risks of food losses. Additionally, as markets are not fully functional due to COVID-19, farmers are facing problems in storing their products.  Trailers attached to tractors can improve transport systems, which are key in allowing agricultural inputs to reach markets. Many large producers have helped with the transitional storage of these products. Agricultural mechanization can play a role in increasing the resilience of smallholder farmers to natural hazards and shocks such as COVID-19.


Overview of FAO’s work on sustainable agricultural mechanization in Nepal

 FAO works closely with the GoN at federal, provincial, and local level for achieving the country priority outcomes[2]: (i) sustainable agricultural production and productivity, marketing and consumption for the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, (ii) enhanced natural resource management and agricultural production system resilient to climate change and disasters, and (iii) inclusive and gender-responsive livelihoods enhancement and poverty reduction. Sustainable agricultural mechanization (SAM) achieves this through the:

·       Promotion and adaptation of gender-sensitive SAM along the agri-food chains for rural job creation, reducing work burden and improving livelihoods.

·       Support the development of inclusive and gender-responsive policies, strategies, and frameworks to increase incomes, creates on- and off-farm rural jobs.

·       Formulation and implementation of projects and programmes on agricultural mechanization for agricultural development and poverty reduction.

·       Capacity building of community members and institutions on technical and agri-business skills for the provision of mechanization services targeting women and youth.

·       Support for agri-business creation and diversifying agricultural production systems by facilitating access of vulnerable groups to agricultural mechanization.





Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). 2009. Nepal Labour Force Survey 2008. Central Bureau of Statistics. Government of Nepal. (also available at

FAO. 2019. Country gender assessment of agriculture and the rural sector in Nepal. Kathmandu.76 pp. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. (also available at

Government of Nepal (GoN). 2015. Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) 2015 to 2035: Part 1. (also available at



Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Headquarters Viale delle Terme di Caracalla 00153 Rome, Italy

Mayling Flores Rojas - [email protected]

FAO Nepal - [email protected]



Acknowledgment:Thanks to Fenton Beed, Josef Kienzle and Mahnoor Malik for their contributions to this paper.


[1] Classified as a least developed country (LDC) by the United Nations Committee for Development Policy

[2] Country priority outcomes are defined under the Country Programming Framework (CPF) 2018-2022