Farming in Nepalese Mountains

Posted: January 22, 2015 in Articles
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In the high hills or mountain areas people are influenced by Tibetan culture and Thakalis, Sherpas and Bhotias live in separate, single, ethnic settlements. Climate varies from warm temperate to alpine. Livestock production is based primarily on crops and grazing. Cultivation includes annual crops on rainfed and irrigated land and perennial crops. Grazing includes the migration of ruminant livestock and the utilization of vegetation.

Herds are made up of yaks, chauries (yak-cattle crosses), cattle, sheep, goats and horses, reared in semi-pastoral or transhumant systems. Livestock move in an annual cycle according to their specific requirements and grazing availability at different altitudes. Yaks occupy an ecological niche at high altitudes (3 000 – 5 000 m), chauries move between 1 500 – 4 000 m, while cattle move between 2 000 and 3 000 m. Sheep, goats and horses are more adaptable to altitude and move between 1 200 – 4 000 m. Plant growth is limited by low temperatures and a short growing season. Barley, buckwheat and potato are the major crops. Pasture at high altitudes is only accessible for grazing in summer (July – September). Thereafter herds move to lower areas for winter (December – March); yaks, however, which are only adapted to cold conditions, are seldom taken below 2 500 m.

Livestock provide milk and fibre and their dung is a major source of fuel. Crossbred males are used for transport and meat. Goats and sheep supply meat and fibre. The use of mules, sheep and goats for trading and transport of basic inputs (grain, salt, building materials, etc.) is an important source of income.nepal


Characteristics of physiographic regions of Nepal
Features Terai Siwaliks Middle Mountain High Mountain High Himal
Geology Quaternary alluvium Tertiary sandstone, siltstone, shale and conglomerates Phyllite, quartzite limestone and islands of granites Gneiss, quartzite and mica schists Gneiss, schist, limestone and Tethys sediments
Elevation 66-300 m 200-1 500 m 800-2 400 m. Relief 15 00 m with isolated peaks to 2 700 m 2 200-4 000 m. High relief 3 000 m form valley floor to ridges. 4 000 m above
Climate Sub-tropical Sub-tropical (but warm temperate in higher hill spurs) Sub- tropical, warm temperate, cool temperate on high ridges Warm to cool temperate, alpine Alpine to arctic

(Snow 6-12 months)

Moisture Regime Sub humid in FW+MWDR; humid in W+C and EDR Sub humid in most of the area, humid in N-aspect of W+C+EDR and dun valleys Humid, per humid above 2000 m Sub humid to per humid Semi and benid Himal
Rainfall Intensity High High Medium Low Low
Vegetation Sal +mixed hardwoods Sal + mixed hard woods + pine forest Pine forest+mixed hardwood and oak forest Fir, pine, birch and rhododendron Open meadows +tundra vegetation
Soils Ustochrepts, haplustolls, haplaquepts,

haplustalfs, ustifluvents & ustorthents

Ustochrepts, haplustolls,

Rhodustalfs, ustothents,


Haplaquepts and


Ustochrepts, haplustalfs, rhodustalfs, haplumbrepts, ustorthents and ustifluvents Eutrochrepts, dystrochrepts, haplumbrepts, cryumbrepts, cryorthents and ustorthents Cryumbrepts, cryorthents and rock
Crops Rice, maize, wheat, mustard

Sugar cane Jute, Tobacco, Cotton and Tea

Rice, maize, wheat, millet, radish, potato, ginger, tea. Rice, maize, wheat, millet, barley, pulses, sugar cane, ginger, cardamom Oat, barley, wheat, potato, buckwheat, yams, amaranthus, medicinal herbs Grazing (June to Sep)
Horticulture Mango, litchi, pineapple,

jackfruit, imli, potato, tomato

Mango, papaya, banana, potato Mango,papaya,banana,
orange,lime,lemon, peach, plum, potato,cauliflower
Chestnut, walnut, apple, peach, plum, apricot, potato Apple, walnut, vegetable seed, potato
People Tharus, Brahmins, Chetris, Tharus(dun valley) presently all hill tribes displaced/immigrated from middle mountains Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Newar, Brahmin, Chetri, Damai, Sarki, Sunar, Kumal, Rais, Limbu. Khas Chetri, Tibetan related groups – Thakali, Bhotiya, Sherpa, Tamangs, Ghale Temporary herders Sherpa and Bhotiya
Transport Good road linkage Good road linkage within dun valleys Road linkages around major centres Very few road linkages No road linkages
Note: FW= Far Western, MWDR= Mid Western Development Region, WDR= Western Development Region, CDR= Central Development Region, EDR= Eastern Development Region

Source: Land Resource Mapping Project (LRMP), Land Utilization Report (1986)

 Area of each physiographic region
Physiographic region Area – hectares Percentage
High Himalayan Region 3 447 500 23.7
High Hills Region 2 889 500 19.7
Middle Hills Region 4 350 300 29.5
Siwalik 1 888 600 12.7
Terai 2 142 200 14.4
Total 14 718 100 100
Source :- MOAC (2004)

Functions of livestock. Farmers usually keep several species of livestock at the same time, for interrelated reasons including food (milk, meat and eggs), fibre, hides /skin, manure, fuel, stores of wealth, draught power, transport (riding, pack), cash and barter income, for hospitality, and for festivals. Because of these multiple functions any proposal to regulate or reduce livestock numbers must provide for equivalent substitutes. Any reduction in manure production which is crucial for crops, will have to be replaced by chemical fertilizer, and organic matter through change in cropping programmes. Dung is used as fuel, so would have to be replaced by firewood or kerosene. Alternative investments, i.e., alternative stores of wealth, would also be needed which give better returns than investment in livestock.

Livestock management systems

Ruminant management is governed by factors such as cropping intensity, availability of forest resources, animal species and productive stage, the overall farming system of the area, labour availability and animal numbers per household. Rearing of ruminants in particular, is dependent upon the overall farming system. Three traditional management systems predominate:

(i) Transhumant system. This system is adopted in high Himalayan areas where herds of yaks, chauries (yak-cattle crosses), cattle, sheep, goats and horses migrate from one place to another throughout the year. Livestock move together in an annual cycle according to their requirement and grazing availability at different altitudes. Yaks occupy an ecological niche at high altitudes (3 000 – 5 000 m), chauries move between 1 500 and 4 000 m, while cattle move between 2 000 and 3 000 m. In contrast, sheep, goats and horses are more adaptable and move between 1 200 – 4 000 m. Plant growth is limited by cold weather and a short growing season. Barley, buckwheat and potato are the major crops. Crop production is less efficient due to the long time required for crops to mature. Vegetation at higher altitudes is only accessible for grazing in summer (July – September). Thereafter herds are moved to lower areas for winter (December – March); however, yaks are adapted only to cold climates and are seldom taken below 2 500 m.

This system utilizes forage resources from the alpine pastures during the monsoon, and crop stubble and fallow land in winter. During upward and downward migrations undergrowth in the forest region is the major forage source. Livestock provide milk and fibre and their dried manure is a major source of energy for cooking. Crossbred males (dzopas) are used for local transport and also supply meat. Goats and sheep supply meat and fibre. The use of mules, sheep and goats for trading and transport of basic inputs provides an important source of income.

(ii) Sedentary system. In this system livestock make grazing forays from the village and return in the evening. The main grazing areas in summer are scrubland and community grazing land around the village. The sedentary population consists of work oxen, dry buffaloes and a small number of cattle. This system prevails in the lower altitudes of the hills (900 – 1 000 m) and utilizes all the available forage in and around villages. Cattle, buffalo and goats are the main grazing livestock. Forages include: grazing in the forest, on cultivated land after harvest, and fallow land; also crop residues from paddy, maize, millet, wheat, mustard, soybean and vegetables; grass gathered from terraces and forests; as well as tree fodder gathered from farmer-owned trees and forest trees. The grazing area is usually degraded and gully formation and soil erosion evident. Animals spend more than half their time grazing, but most of the feed is crop by-products and tree fodder in winter and grasses and weeds from crop land in summer which are offered evening and morning.

(iii) Stall-fed system. This is mainly found in the Terai and low hills (< 900 m) and peri-urban areas with milking buffalo and exotic or crossbred cattle. It is governed both by the availability of community grazing land and the steepness of the terrain, which may mean that other classes of livestock are also kept under stall-feeding. The system prevails in areas of intensive cultivation (three-crop sites), where the availability of crop by-products is adequate to feed the animals in winter. In addition to crop by-products, tree fodder, grasses and weeds from farm land are an important forage source.

Feed sources

Fodder is collected from all land use systems and the major sources are: cropland, forest, grassland, shrubland and non-cultivated inclusions. Forests are lands with tree crown cover above 10 %; shrublands are degraded forests where there are trees with less than 10 % crown cover; lands without trees or with only a few scattered trees with grass cover are described as grasslands. Forest, shrub and grasslands are generally owned by the government and are under the control of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. Non-Cultivated Inclusions (NCI) are government or privately owned lands consisting of degraded forests, permanent fallow, abandoned terraces and homesteads.

(i) Cropland. The majority of cropland is in the Terai (52%) and in the Middle hills (40%). Crop by-products and crop residues commonly used for livestock feed are straws, stovers, pulse residues, oil crop residues, maize cobs, sugarcane tops, rice bran, wheat bran, barley bran, mustard cake and molasses. In the country as a whole, crop by-products and residues contribute about 47 % of the total available TDN. Agricultural land contributes substantial fodder in the Middle-hills and Terai, where there are large livestock populations but little grassland. In crop growing areas, rice straw, wheat straw and maize stovers are widely fed, sometimes with cereal bran and oil seed cakes, along with a little grain.

(ii) Forest. The area of forest is 5.5 million hectares or 37.4 % of the total land. Forest land is almost evenly distributed between the High hills (34%), Middle hills (33%) and the Terai (34%). Fodder is collected from the forest for feed and bedding which is subsequently used as manure. Uneaten branches and twigs are used as fuel.

(iii) Shrubland. The area of shrubland is 0.7 million hectares or 4.8 % of the total. There is little shrubland in Terai, (9%); most is in the Middle hills (57%) and the High hills (34%). Fodder from shrubland is used to feed the animals and for bedding. In the country as a whole, shrubland contributes 7 % of the total available TDN.

(iv) Non -Cultivated Inclusions (NCI). The area of non-cultivated inclusions is 0.99 million hectares or 6.8 % of all land. There are few non-cultivated inclusions in the High hills (15 %) and the Terai (18 %); most is in the Middle hills (67 %). NCI lie fallow throughout the year and fodder is collected either by cut-and-carry or grazed by animals of nearby households. Fodder from non-cultivated inclusions contributes 11 % of the total available nutrients.

(v) Grassland. The area of grassland is 1.7 million hectares or 11.8 % of the land area. In the High hills grassland is the most important fodder source. Most of the grassland is in the High hills (79.3%) and the Middle hills (16.7%). More than half of the grassland is in the high mountains. The Terai and Siwaliks together have (4%). Grassland contributes 5 % of available TDN.

Feeding systems

(i) Mountain. Ruminants in high mountain areas mostly graze for 6-8 hours. Cereal by-products are fed to both ruminants and monogastrics. Concentrate feed is given to lactating and growing animals. Stall-feeding is only practiced when one or two animals are kept. Kundo (a home made cooked concentrate) is only fed to lactating animals. Salt is given once in a week or two mixed in kundo when kundo is fed. Oxen are given better care during cultivation time. Yaks and chauries graze for more time than other ruminants; mostly they are left to graze in pastures, forest and along the streams when the land is not covered with snow. They are let loose in such areas continuously for several days. It is more systematic at higher altitudes where a fixed system of rotational grazing prevails in the kharkas (pasture land) with 15 – 30 days in one kharka depending on the availability of forage and strength of the herd. In this system, there is no shed for the animals, only a compound divided into compartments, where the animals spend the night. Once the forage is finished in a kharka, they are moved to another. In winter when snow covers the pasture, animals do not find sufficient forage. In April – May, even when the pasture is bare, animals are left to graze and cannot even compensate the energy they spend going and coming from such pastures and they suffered great hardship. Although farmers make hay in high altitude in the rainy season when some grass is available, it is not sufficient to meet their nutrient requirement because farmers do not have sufficient land and prefer to grow potato, buckwheat and other crops on the limited land. Hay from native species like Elymus nutans (furcha)Pennisetum flaccidum (dhimchi), Medicago sativa ssp. falcata (kote), and other local grasses is very expensive and considered best by farmers. Hay is usually carried by pack yaks while transporting the household goods, from one part to another. Potato is one of the main items given to these animals as concentrate because it is available in sufficient quantity in both winter and summer.

Usually animals are fed twice daily. Young calves and lactating females are given special attention and fed with better hay, khole and some potatoes. Calves of under a year are given some pida prepared fromuwa, (naked barley), potato, peas, wheat and maize flours. This practice is also very common in Tibet. Some straws, e.g. uwa, barley, buckwheat and wheat in lower belts are stored after harvest as feed during scarcity periods.

Yaks and chauries are always tied during feeding because they are extremely aggressive. Strong ones do not allow weak ones to eat anything if not tied. If a strong yak/nak hits a weak one, all others also come and hit that animal and may even kill it. In the migratory system, goats are taken to pastures at different altitudes depending on season and weather. Goats usually graze along with sheep and the two species move together. Hay from native fodder is not sufficient to meet the requirement of the entire herd for the long dry winter and summer and animals lose considerable weight during these seasons. Some grain is offered occasionally. Salt is provided from time-to-time.

Major problems associated with feeds and feeding

Major problems associated with feeds and feeding, include both their quality and quantity during winter and summer, be it in migratory, sedentary or stall fed systems. Shrinkage of pasture and community (public) grazing land, decreasing feed resources, unavailability of cereal and legume by-products for feeding animals etc. have led to the quantity related problems. The available feeds and forages are mostly poor in nutritive value. Grazing in the forest area has been prohibited to a great extent causing some problems in the availability of feeds and fodders. Heavy dependence on poor quality roughages and degraded pasture and grazing lands has reduced the production and productivity of the livestock.

Integration of livestock into farming systems

There are three important components of Nepalese farming systems and they are crop, livestock and forest. Integration among these components results in a farming system in different agro-ecozones of the country. Distinctively integration of livestock prevails in three prominent farming systems:

(i) Mountain farming systems. The potato, barley and buckwheat zone is in the lower ranges of the Himalayas from 2 500 – 3 500 m above sea level. The land is steep and less fertile than in other zones; holdings are small and fragmented. Crops take longer to mature, and harvesting one crop annually is the common practice. Crop productivity is very low and intensification to increase yields has limited scope. Cereals, for example, have to be purchased from outside the region. Transhumant animal production is concentrated in alpine meadows and forests. The chyangra goat, bhyanglung sheep, lulu and kirko cattle, chauri, Tibetan horse, yak and nak predominate. The productivity of livestock is lower than in the Terai or hills. Households keep 5 –20 cattle and 50 or more small ruminants.

Farmers in this zone derive their income mainly from livestock, but neither animal nor crop production can meet their basic needs. Many young people move to lower, more favourable altitudes to farm, or go abroad to find work. There are few educational opportunities for children. Generally, mountain farmers have little or no access to roads, electricity, markets or modern communication systems. In these remote areas, the main ethnic groups are the Sherpa, Limbu or Tamang who are adapted to the hardships of the mountain-farming environment that include a cold climate and food shortages. Tables 24and 25 describe the prevailing cropping systems in mountain regions.

Major cropping patterns in rainfed bari-land in the mountain region
Cropping Pattern Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maize-wheat-finger millet (2 years ) Wheat Early maize from June to Sept and finger millet from May to October Wheat
Maize+potato+wheat+finger millet Wheat Maize+potato from April to October and or finger millet from June to October Wheat

Major cropping patterns in irrigated khet-land in the Mountain region
Cropping Pattern Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Rice-naked barley Naked barley Rice Fallow Naked barley
Buckwheat-naked barley Naked barley Buckwheat Fallow Naked barley
Potato+naked barley-fallow (2 years) Naked barley up to May potato from March to August Fallow Naked barley

Constraints in various sectors and focused interventions initiated

The constraints faced by mountain farmers and options for improvement (Sharma 1998, Morrison 1998, and Shrestha and Pradhan 1995) are as follows:

a. Crop production
Physical Limited area for cultivation; remote and steep land; cold climate and consequent slow plant growth rate; and a short summer growing season due to the long, severe winter.
No easy access for farmers to roads, markets, education, inputs and new knowledge.
Soils Acidic with low phosphate availability; degraded land and often shallow.
Low soil temperatures and slow decomposition of organic matter.
Ecological Fragile ecosystem, with diversification from the mountain base to the summit, which may be temporarily or permanently snow-covered.
Native pasture species complete their cycle within 6-7 months.
Traditional crop and livestock production, with migratory communal grazing due to:
(a) Winter feed deficit for animals (b) Inadequate technology generation and dissemination to meet the defined meet of farmers.
Social Less attractive to the young because of the harsh conditions.
Alternative sources of income, such as eco-tourism, not well recognized.
Community ownership of pastoral land.
Replacement of the barter system with the modern marketing system.

b. Animal production
  • Low input and extensive production systems based on pastoralism.
  • Over-grazing of native pasture resulting in land degradation.
  • Lack of information on pasture development and utilization.
  • Inaccessibility of pasture area.
  • Low productivity of native pastures and indigenous breeds of livestock.
  • Poor knowledge of nutritive value of native pasture.
  • High mortality rates in the migratory flocks of small ruminants.
  • Harsh environment for livestock.
  • Inadequate livestock extension systems.
  • No administrative mechanisms to protect the fragile ecosystem or restore degraded lands.

Research and extension programme priorities for improvement of mountain farming systems
  • Improvement of the productivity, nutritive value and utilization of native pasture species and fodder trees, particularly at high altitudes
  • Evaluation of the technical and economic feasibility of improving hay-making within the traditional systems
  • Conservation, and expansion of the establishment of important native pasture plants:Medicago sativa ssp. falcataPennisetum flaccidum, and Agropyron spp. in the drier areas of the trans-Himalayan region Festuca and Elymus in the high hills of the eastern region.Dactylis, Trifolium repens and Lolium perenne in the humid, high hills
  • Evaluation and improvement of the existing transhumance systems for ruminants, yak, nak and chauri, sheep and goats.
  • Development of animal breeding programme relevant to the mountain farming systems
  • Improvement in land tenure issues such as the lease of pastures to farmer groups raising livestock
  • Improvement in cheese production in the yak
  • Improvement in the production of temperate fruits such as apples and walnuts
  • Improvement in the production of the potato and other crops such as buckwheat and barley

  1. JAY NEPAL says:

    Reblogged this on JAY NEPAL ,THE YOUNG BLOGGER and commented:

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