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LUMLE Committed to Agricultural Research and Productivity - LB THAPA

Posted On December 10, 2017

Predominantly Nepal is an agricultural country where about 68% people are directly engaged in farming. The country is endowed with agro-biodiversity, which supports in growing various seasonal crops in Tarai, Hilly and Mountainous regions. However, over the years, the productivity of Nepali agriculture has been constantly declining. In 2005/06 agriculture alone contributed for 36.64% to gross domestic product (GDP). Nevertheless, during 2014/15 it plummeted to 33.1%. Without doubt, such depreciation in productivity shows a bleak picture of Nepali agriculture.

Since 1956, a systematic effort was made to enrich Nepali agriculture; however, the progress was always at snail’s pace. Even today, Nepali agriculture is unable to feed its growing population. The country has to import food grains from neighboring nations. More than 53% of the farmland is out of irrigation and many farmers get no fertilizer during major crop growing season. In fact, national agriculture policy of 2005 had targeted to enhance agricultural production in the country; but productivity of rice and wheat is much less than South Asian countries.        

At a time when Nepal’s agriculture has been reeling under many difficulties, Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lumle (RARSL) has been doing exceptionally brilliant work. Its contribution to Nepali agriculture is extremely important. The RARSL was formed by the British government as Lumle Agricultural Training Center (LATC) in 1968. Then its main purpose was to impart knowledge on agriculture and livestock farming to retired Gurkha soldiers of the British Army to improve agricultural productivity in their villages. 

Shedding some light on the history of Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lumle (RARSL), Ram Bahadur K.C, regional director, said: “Lumle Agricultural Training Center (LATC) was established in 1968 by the British. In 1975, LATC was undertaken by the United Kingdom (UK) government’s overseas development administration (ODA). Consequently, LATC received a wider mandate for agricultural research, extension and training in the area covering 1,100km2 in Kaski, Parbat and Myagdi. In 1987, LATC was asked to generate agricultural technologies for additional four hill districts of Gorkha, Lamjung, Tanahun and Syangja. Such additional responsibility was added as part of the then World Bank funded Hill Food Production Project (HFPP). In 1989, more development took place, as LATC became part of the then National Agricultural Research and Services Centre (NARSC). Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) was further named as the Regional Agricultural Research Centre (LRARC) with the responsibility for technology generation, where Baglung district was also added in the responsibility. In 1993, under a NARC the Wheat Research Station was set up in Bhairahawa. The Wheat Research Station became the Regional Centre and Lumle became Lumle Agricultural Research Centre (LARC). Similarly, in the period of transformation, in 1995 the extension activities were handed over to the Department of Agriculture Development (DoAD), the Department of Forestry (DoF), and the Deparment of Livestock, Services (DoLS). In subsequent years, more districts like Palpa, Gulmi and Arghakhanchi were added to LARC’s Research Command Area, which covered 18500km2 and 360,000 farming households. In 1998, LARC was handed over to NARC and named as Agricultural Research Station (ARS) Lumle. Eventually, Lumle Agricultural Training Center (LATC), which was started by the British, formerly handed over to Nepal government in 1998”. 

The entire Lumle region is rich with incredible natural beauty. In the meantime, perhaps very few people know that Lumle is also known as the Cherapunji of Nepal. Because, Lumle receives maximum rainfall in a year. In all weather conditions, rambling clouds can be seen floating over the mountains of Lumle, which bring rain round the year. Due to much rainfall, the entire Lumle and surrounding areas are rich in flora and fauna. As a result, tourists in Lumle can enjoy lush greenery wherever they throw their eyes. Moreover, local farmers can be seen working in the terraced fields round the year. 

Cascaded fields with varieties of crops attract many visitors to Lumle. “Our scientists and technicians spend a lot of time in the laboratory and prepare high quality seeds for the farmers. But, before the commercial use, we grow those seeds in our protected fields and examine the growth. The crops are developed under strict supervision of our scientists and experts. The scientists make it sure the crop is healthy and immune to popular diseases. Once our scientists are assured of a healthy crop, seeds are circulated among the farmers. Moreover, the research center studies about fodder trees and forage species as well.  Seedlings of various fodder species are studied and they are prepared and distributed to the farmers,” added KC, the regional director.

Livestock does occupy an important place in Nepali agriculture. For centuries, Nepali farmers depended on livestock to fulfill several needs. Buffalo is an important animal as it contributes about 70% and 65% to the total milk and meat production in the country. “At present we are taking care of two types of buffaloes---they are Lime and Parkote. More experiments have been done to develop these two breeds, as they are immune to many diseases. Moreover, these two types of buffaloes are much stronger as they can live in extreme weather condition,” said one of the research members.   

Research on mountain sheep and rabbit has drawn much attention of the farmers. Mountain sheep are unable to live in the warmer climate of the hilly regions as they live in cold weather condition of the high Himalayas. Efforts are being made to develop a new breed of sheep, which can survive in the warmer climate of the hilly region. Sheep are used for meat consumption and more especially for high quality wool. Wool has been used for clothing for over twelve thousand years. Today every quality clothes contain little quantity of fine quality wool. The livestock laboratory at Lumle has been developing four native breeds of sheep: Bhayanglung, Baruwal, Kage and Lampuchhare. But, two breeds of sheep Bhayanglung and Baruwal have been identified suitable for the harsh climate of the country. 

The research center has taken care of some rabbits in a separate area. Rabbit’s meat is considered very hygienic for human consumption. At the same time, their wool and skin are considered special for making various goods. Nowadays research studies are going on of two types of breeds of rabbit: Soviet Chinchilla and Hyline California. These rabbits can be highly marketable for meat consumption and their hide can be used for commercial purposes. 

Scientists at Lumle do regular research and analyze of nutrient content of different forage. The required amount of forage and its nutritional value are maintained before the forage is offered to the animals. A well-facilitated animal health laboratory is available where sample of faecal, blood, urine, skin are collected and they are examined in the laboratory. Treatment and control strategy are developed and employed against different animal diseases. 

A single lane road meanders through the main gate that reaches most parts of the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lumle (RARSL). There are many things to see for the visitors. Tea gardens, rabbit farm, sheep farm, buffalo farm and several crops and vegetables yards are open to visitors. In fact, crops and vegetables are not grown here for selling purpose---they are grown on experimental purpose. Same is true with livestock. Rabbit, sheep and buffaloes are bred to see which species are more suitable for the farmers of different regions. 

When asked if there is any possibility of connecting RARSL with tourism promotion, upon this Ram Bahadur KC, regional director, said: “This is really a good idea and it is quite possible as well. According to my knowledge, average stay of tourists in Pokhara is 2 days. This can be further elongated and for this RARSL can play a major role; because RARSL has enough to make tourists stay here for about 2-3 days. The best thing that tourists can do in RARSL area is a short trek that can be full of fun and excitement. The tourists can watch pristine, natural beauty and many birds, which are only available in this area. In addition to these birds, there are many rare plants of significant importance. I think Nepal government and Nepal Tourism Board should think about the possibility of brining tourists in RARSL area”. 

RARSL is also working seriously to begin a scheme to involve educated urban youths in agriculture. “We are working on a new concept of modern farming. According to this, we want to encourage the youths to get involved in modern type of agriculture. We want to encourage committed youths to grow seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs in urban areas. Nowadays, such enterprise has already become a lucrative business in urban areas. We think that now time has come when we should use youth potentiality for more productive activities; and urban farming can be the best way to convert youth energy into productivity,” emphasized KC, the regional director. 

However, not all is well here in Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lumle (RARSL). The main problem the research station is facing today is lack of dedicated scientists. There are far less numbers of scientists working at the research station than they used to be in the past. 

“Truth has it that the research station does not have dedicated and committed scientists. Many scientists have already left the research station because they get better salary and facilities outside. Many of them have even gone abroad. Owing to limited budget the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lumle is not being able to give higher pay and perks to its staff. This is the reason nowadays we have only 6 scientists but the position of senior scientist is still vacant,” lamented KC, the regional director. 

This scribe met Balaram Devkota, who had joined Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lumle in 1971, then the research station was under direct control of the British government. He shared his experience of the time when the research station was run by the British government. 

“When this research station was under the direct control of the British government, it had golden days. There was no problem of finance with the research station and renowned scientists were involved in the research station. Pay scale and other benefits, during the British undertaking, were extremely attractive and many highly qualified scholars always craved to find an employment at the Regional Agricultural Research Station. When British government handed over this research station, all of the workers were asked to get voluntary retirement. All of the employees of the Regional Agricultural Research Station got compulsory retirement and received satisfactory amount. However, today I am working here on daily wage like several other staff. I receive no additional benefits as I used to receive when this station was governed by the British government”, said Balaram Devkota, a senior employee of Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lumle.  

Highlighting the slackening situation of Agricultural Research Station (ARS) at Pakhribas, a piece of news was published on 22 September 2017 in the front page of The Rising Nepal, which confirms dire situation in Pakhribas agro center. The situation is no better in other 61 research stations across the country. In the news Hari Kumar Prasain, the station chief of Pakhribas, has agreed to have scarcity of many vital necessities including scientists. The station chief did accept the fact that when the station was being managed by the British, there were about 60 highly skilled scientists and technicians…now there are only three scientists, in fact there is vacant position for 14 scientists. According to Dr.Yagya Prasad Giri, at present there are only 400 scientists working at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) centers across the country. This number of scientists is far less than necessary. 

At a time when Nepali tourism is making efforts to get on its feet after jolted by devastative earthquake and then Indian trade embargo, any steps to boost Nepali tourism and agriculture must be embraced by both hands. Let’s not forget that Nepali economy is largely supported by Nepali agriculture. Without making Nepali agriculture self sufficient, it is impossible to develop Nepali tourism and Nepali industry. Nepali agriculture and Nepali tourism must go hand in hand, because both sectors depend on each other. 

All photos by LB Thapa for Food & Wine

About Writer

LB Thapa

Mr. LB Thapa born and educated in Bhopal, India returned to his ancestors home Nepal in 1991 after completing Master's Degree in Economics from Bhopal University. In his initial days in Nepal he taught in schools and colleges and later began freelance writing. He has written seven books which are available on www.amazon.com , http://www.amazon.com/LB-Thapa/e/B00ISV3PFA. One of his books 'The Pokhara Valley: A Traveler's Guide' has been published by Nirala Publications New Delhi, India (www.niralapublications.com). 'Pokhara and Annapurnas' has been published by Himalayan Maphouse, Kathmandu, Nepal. This book has been translated in seven languages and available in leading bookstore in Nepal.  He is the regular contributor to The Rising Nepal(daily newspaper), VIBES Magazine(Monthly Magazine published from Nepal), and People's Review Weekly(Weekly newspaper, published from Nepal).You can reach him in his blog http://theroamingpost.blogspot.com, where he generally writes about development, tourism, social and corruption issues.