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Potential of conservation agriculture practices (CAPs) in enhancing food security of tribal people in central mid-hills of Nepal
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Traditional agriculture in central mid hills of Nepal is characterized by cultivation of steep sloping lands, resulting lower productivity, degradation of soil health and reduction of livelihood options. The Sustainable Management of Agro-ecological Resources in Tribal Societies (SMARTS) project applied a participatory agro-ecological framework to develop improved conservation practices (CAPs) to contribute to sustainable livelihood of Chepang tribal people in central Nepal. CAPs were identified by a multidisciplinary research and extension team in collaboration with farmers. Selected CAPs included: Legume cover crop (cowpea), legume millet intercrop with full tillage and same intercrop with strip tillage. Data on crop yields was collected through systematically designed randomized-block design established in 24 farmers’ fields at three villages. Land equivalency ratio (LER), total protein yield, total carbohydrate yield and farm revenue was compared among different treatments. LER for yield in the millet-cowpea intercrop with full tillage was significantly higher (20%) than sole crops. The major gain is attributed to cowpea, which produced 75 percent of its sole crop yield even in intercropping. The CAPs were found to significantly increase protein yield per square meter, but not carbohydrate yield and revenue generation. However, the seasonal revenue generated from winter crops by all CAPs were significantly higher than millet sole crop. While the long-term effects of CAPs on soil and environmental health remains to be analyzed, these results provide evidence on potential of CAPs to increase yield and contribute to food security while sustaining agro-ecosystem function long-term.