Improving food security in Nepal: An economic analysis of conservation agriculture adoption in three subsistence farming villages
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International efforts to increase food security struggle with increasing populations and decreasing quantities of productive farmland, especially in developing countries. Conservation agriculture (CA) practices can improve regional food security, preserve land fertility, and improve community resilience against climate change. This makes the incorporation of such practices an imperative in these regions. In Nepal, traditional farming practices on marginal land have led to widespread soil degradation and declines in agricultural productivity. This study estimates the household-level economic returns, with and without labor opportunity costs, gained by the adoption of selected CA practices in three remote Nepali villages. Socio-economic data was collected in April 2011 (27 surveys covering over 25% of the households) and paired with trial plot data from each village to determine the changes in profitability and labor requirements for three CA treatments using a budget enterprise model. Results indicate that the use of cowpea as a rotational crop produces the highest economic returns (62% higher than current farmer practice and around 36% higher than other treatments) while the current farmer practice of full tillage and millet monocropping is the least profitable . These results highlight the economic benefits of CA practices over traditional farming techniques and make the case for the provision of high-value, N-fixing crop seeds for use as rotational crop or intercrop. Such policies could improve the food security and economic well-being of Nepal’s farming communities.