In 2008 Development Marketplace competition, Helvetas was among the 22 winners with its proposal on Riverbed Farming for Landless and Land-Poor. The project has now entered its third season of cultivation.
Cultivation is done on large tracks of dry riverbeds in the Tarai region of Nepal, where land poverty is wide-spread and where at least 20 percent of households do not own land. The Nepalese climate allows riverbed farming for a maximum of seven to eight months a year except during monsoon season.
As a part of the project, local farmers are trained as extension agents. They receive technical assistance from the District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) staff and a Helvetas agriculturalist.
Currently 3,000 households in Kailali and Kanchanpur districts are cultivating watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin and other vegetables on about 400 hectares of riverbed land. Through a lease signed between the landless groups and the land owners, (generally the village development committees or community forestry user groups), landless groups cultivate produce and generate a significant income from their harvest.
To date, the income of the participating households has increased by about US$ 350 per household each season. This is the equivalent to one third of the annual income of a household on average and up to half of the annual income in some households.
Additionally, riverbed farmers are able to use their produce to barter for grain which extends their food security by an additional four months.Overall the program helps farmers increase their food security while reducing their dependency on off-farm waged labor.
The project has also garnered interest from the Ministry of Local Development and Helvetas-Nepal has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF) to scale up and disseminate appropriate technologies for the production of high value produce, particularly on riverbeds.
Mr Raj Babu Shrestha,Executive Director, PAF, said after signing the agreement:
"This a very important beginning as it will avoid duplication of program resources at the local level aimed at alleviating poverty and reaching out the vulnerable and isolated communities effectively."
Riverbed farming has ensured access to land for three thousand landless households for at least three years. Landless poor in Nepal are otherwise deprived of economic well-being as they are socially discriminated against, and are often forced to migrate to India in search of a livelihood. Based on the promising results, the riverbed farming program has expanded to two more districts, Banke and Bardiya. In these districts an additional 2,000 landless and land-poor households will be involved from 2011 onwards with the funding support from Helvetas and PAF, respectively.