Salinas Valley: Lessons on sustainable farming for Nepal

by Birendra Rana, Nepal, ELP 2015
Written on July 16, 2015.

Our ELP 2015 field trip to the agricultural farms in Salinas Valley, California on July 11, 2015 was highly illuminative.

Salinas Valley, also known as the "the Salad Bowl of the World" or “America’s Fresh Farming Capital” for the production of lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, artichokes, peppers and wine grapes, contributes roughly $10 billion to the GDP. This excludes the highly lucrative fruit and dairy industry. We learned that agriculture is a highly competitive industry there and that it has been refined over several generations, taking out every element of cost. We also noticed that the intersection of agricultural and technical science has succeeded in improving yields and efficiencies. It was very impressive to notice the adoption of innovative uses of information in all aspects of farming — from yield optimization, to food safety and quality, to distribution, to water management, fertilizer management, connected vehicles and even whole new methods of growing food.

Image iconbirendra-1-300x205_2.jpg Farm workers picking up salads, Salinas Valley. California, USA

My findings were great and I am very positive that Nepal could learn a lot from Salinas Valley’s farming techniques. Agriculture continues to be the mainstay of the Nepalese economy and it generates roughly 38% of the GDP and supports livelihoods of over 75% of the population. Nepal produces rice, wheat, pulses, barley and oilseeds but these are barely sufficient to feed its growing population. Agriculture plots in Nepal are generally very small, with 70% holdings being less than 1.0 Hectares and constrained access to improved seeds, new technologies, and market opportunities.

Consequently, Nepal still finds itself struggling to produce an adequate supply of food for its citizens. This is the principal reason for the depressed rural economy and increased widespread hunger and urban migration. As per recent UNDP statistics, nearly 50% of all Nepalese kids under 5 are chronically malnourished.

Image iconbirendra-2-300x180_2.jpgI had discussions with other ELP 2015 fellows, and I realized that Nepal’s issues are not unique to itself, but they are shared by lot of other developing countries all over the world. I personally believe that the lessons learned from Salinas Valley farming practices could be very useful to help solve this hunger crisis. For example:

  1. Crop selection: With too much emphasis on staple food grain production by the government of Nepal, I suspect that farmers in Nepal have almost never been motivated towards cash crops/fruit. Interestingly, the fruit (apples, prunes, plums) produced in the northern belt of the country have difficulty finding markets.
  2. Efficient way of farming – Drip water irrigation saves 20-50% more water than conventional methods. The use of mixed crop farming, plant-friendly insects (beetles and wasps) for better pollination, and adopting environmentally friendly pest control methods are cost effective and more sustainable.
  3. Embracing technology – effective use of machines/data and a strong partnership with research institutions for high yielding varieties of seeds. The National Agriculture Research Center (NARC) is doing its part, but we need more results.
  4. Product Differentiation – With a major shift in consumers’ preference towards organic foods/vegetables, Organic food is the next big thing.
  5. Economic policies – The government needs to introduce prudent economic policies to consolidate land holdings, making capital/agricultural resources more accessible and affordable to the farmers.

To conclude, the Salinas Valley farming methods have left a profound impression on me and I hope that my country could pick up few of the best practices so that we are better positioned to effectively address the longstanding issues of poverty and hunger.