By Neil Palmer (Originally posted here on the CIAT blog)
I knew not to expect “guide book” Nepal: majestic, snowy peaks; multicoloured prayer flags fluttering against clear blue skies.
But nothing quite prepared me for the Terai.
Around 120 km west of the capital Kathmandu, this is a hazy, sweltering, lowland plain, where daytime temperatures hover around 45 degrees Celsius, with little respite after dark.
With the sweat pouring off you day and night, it’s so hot it’s hard to concentrate. Every few minutes for the first few days, I’d close my eyes and catch fleeting, dream-like sequences of gulping down ice cold water; gushing Alpine waterfalls; news footage of buff-chested Russians swan-diving into semi-frozen lakes. You shake the images away, but the heat persists.
Despite the tough conditions, the Terai is Nepal’s breadbasket, producing around 50% of the country’s food. Rice, wheat, maize and a variety of vegetables are all grown here, in the northeastern reaches of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.
But there’s pressure building in the system. Climate models indicate that average temperatures in Rupandehi – a district in the heart of the Terai – will rise by around 1.5 to 2 degrees by as soon as 2030. And as global C02 emissions continue to break new records, it’s safe to say that the increases probably won’t stop there. Also, the all-important monsoon rains – the driver of food production in the Terai – have been arriving late in recent years, disrupting the farming calendar.
It’s already so hot in the Terai, it’s hard to imagine what life would be like if it got any hotter. But a team of scientists from the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Research Program (CCAFS) and Oxford University are working on just that. Earlier this year they identified the small agricultural community of Beora, in Rupandehi, as a baseline site for the Farms of the Future project.
The project aims to show farmers in Beora what their future climate could look like – by physically taking them there, on a bus. That’s because in an area with such diverse agricultural landscapes at a range of elevations, it’s likely that Beora’s future is the current reality for agricultural communities relatively nearby, at so-called “analogue sites”.
Locating these sites is made possible using a computer program, known as the climate analogue tool. Developed by CIAT and CCAFS in partnership with the Walker Institute for Climate System Research and the UK’s University of Reading, it was officially launched during Agriculture and Rural Development Day, a parallel event at the COP17 climate change conference in Durban last December.
The tool takes multiple temperature and rainfall predictions for 2030 for a baseline site – in this case Beora – and searches for areas exhibiting those conditions today. As these variables are overlaid on a Google Earth map of western Nepal, patches of red appear, allowing the team to pinpoint specific sites.
How are farmers in these areas coping, and what can farmers in Beora learn from them, to help them adapt to climate change?
Equipped with a GPS device, the analogue maps, a soil sampling kit and probably too many emergency packs of biscuits, I was about to find out, as I joined the team on a 1000km scoping mission, to find the future of Beora.
Things were about to get even hotter.