Nepal has 0.26 million ha rice fallow land of which 75% lies in the eastern region. In the eastern region approximately 43% of the kharif (rainy season) rice area remains fallow during rabi (postrainy season). Introduction of rainfed rabi crops in the rice fallow areas would help improve the socioeconomic situation of this region particularly of the poor, small and marginal land holders who are solely dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. This study has identified major limiting factors to the cultivation of rabi crops under rainfed conditions and has explored opportunities for their sustained production.
Lack of irrigation is the main limiting factor for the non-utilization of the rabi fallow lands. The focus of this study, however, is on rainfed crops because an overwhelming majority of farmers in the region is poor and lack capacity to invest in creating the irrigation infrastructure. Some rabi crops specifically pulses and oilseeds can be successfully grown, under rainfed conditions, on fallow lands, given the appropriate technology and needed technical training to the farmers.
The major requirements for rainfed rabi cropping are:
• Training to preserve the fast receding residual moisture from the rice vacated fields.
• Short-duration varieties of rice to facilitate timely sowing of rabi crops.
• Short-duration drought escaping varieties of rabi crops.
For the utilization of residual moisture, rabi crops are sown soon after rice harvest. Farmers in Nepal are ignorant about the soil moisture conservation practices and efficient sowing technologies. The inputs such as seed, pesticides, and fertilizers are beyond the reach of the poor Nepali farmers. The credit market is in the hands of indigenous bankers. The most important input, which is reported as major constraint in growing rabi crops, is the \"seed\". The extension system is weak in disseminating good seed. Insect pests and diseases are the major biotic risks.
In Sagarmatha and Koshi, grazing of crops by stray animals is another limitation to cultivation of rabi crops. Low volume of produce and lack of market may deprive the small and marginal producers to get the market prices.
Despite several production constraints, there is a possibility of growing rabi crops under rainfed conditions. On-farm participatory research by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India and the Department for International Development/Plant Sciences Research Programme (DFID/PSP), UK has proven the technical feasibility of introducing rabi crops in the rice fallow areas. A large number of farmers were sensitized, and were willing to undertake cultivation of chickpea, buckwheat, and field pea given appropriate technologies, critical inputs, and information. Ex-ante estimates suggest that utilization of even a small portion of rabi fallow is likely to generate substantial employment.
The marketing of the increased production is not a problem, as Nepal depends on imports of food grains. Pulses are the cheapest source of protein and unfortunately their availability is declining due to constraints on the supply side. Domestic supply of pulses is grossly inadequate to meet the rising demand. This offers an opportunity to increase consumption of pulses.
The rice fallow systems have been bypassed in the research development efforts. To promote rabi cropping in these systems the options lie in technology development and its effective transfer to the farmers. Research should focus on development of short-duration drought escaping varieties of rabi crops, short-duration rice varieties to facilitate timely sowing of rabi crops on residual moisture, and technology to enhance seed germination in the low moisture regime. Another option is to effect agronomic manipulation like early sowing of rice, if possible. Simultaneously, extension system needs to be strengthened by using more participatory methods to sensitize the farming community to technology transfer. The seed sector should be strengthened to ensure timely supply of quality seeds to the farmer. These efforts need to be backed up by institutional support such as provision of credit, crop insurance, and agricultural market to improve farmer investment capacity and risk bearing ability.