Innovation As Expression Of Adaptation To Change In Himalayan Farming

Apr 4th, 2013 | By | Category: Adaptation, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Food, Government Policies, Information and Communication, Land, Lessons, Livelihood, News, Population, Publication, Research, Resilience, Vulnerability

080912_0446_Agricultura1.jpgBioOne: Recent studies of future food production in South Asia generally agree that the conditions for production will radically change in the years to come, in particular due to climate change and market variations. However, because we do not know how conditions will be modified and what adaptations will be required by farmers, the article assumes that innovative farming systems will cope best with changes, whatever those changes turn out to be. The challenge, then, is to identify circumstances that either promote or hamper innovation. A comparative analysis of 2 farming communities in the Himalayas concludes that no single parameter can explain the observed variation of agricultural innovation. Rather than restricting analyses to “innovation systems” that consist of social institutions only, the article proposes an approach that includes social actors, as well as natural resources, in processes that produce “innovative places.” In this study, water availability, farm size, and an active national nongovernmental organization are parameters that encourage innovation.

Title: Innovation as an Expression of Adaptive Capacity to Change in Himalayan Farming

Authors:Tor Halfdan Aase , Prem Sagar Chapagain , and Prakash Chandra Tiwari

Himalayan farmers, who have always had to cope with the capriciousness of nature, are accustomed to working under uncertain production conditions. However, the degree of uncertainty has increased lately and will most likely continue to increase. Because farmers are now more deeply integrated than their subsistence ancestors in the national economy, they are exposed to market variations on the input side, as well as on the output side. Prices for input factors such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides are closely tied to world market petroleum prices. In addition, remote mountain villages suffer from irregular supplies of such goods (Mittal and Sethi 2011). On the output side, prices for natural resources fluctuate more than other commodity prices, and they are at greater risk of being replaced by cheaper substitutes (Handmer et al 2001).

Climate change constitutes another uncertainty. Even if climate scenarios are becoming ever more exact and convincing, the weather in local places where farming is carried out remains uncertain. In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) refers to “an inevitable level of uncertainty that is inherent in discussion of climate change adaptation” (DEFRA 2010: 7). This uncertainty is even more pronounced in a hilly topography such as the Himalayan foothills, where local variations in temperature and precipitation are dramatic. Temperature correlates inversely with elevation, and precipitation is largely determined by location relative to mountains. This is illustrated in Figure 1, where 2 meteorological stations at similar elevations and only 11 km apart display substantial differences in volume of monthly precipitation despite similar patterns. Downscaled regional climate models will thus inevitably be approximate and probably dubious.

In line with those who “suspect that environmental and cultural change, far beyond the reach of restoration, is occurring” (Crate and Nuttall 2009: 10), we assume that climate change and variable markets imply radical transformations of the conditions for agricultural production. As a result, agriculturalists have to change their practices. To maintain or preferably increase productivity, farmers have to introduce new crop varieties, try out new farming techniques, and market their products in new ways. The farmers who are best able to adopt such novelties are those who will most successfully cope with changing production conditions. In other words, a farmer’s adaptation to change will largely be conditioned by the farming household’s innovative capacity. The term innovative capacity in this article is defined as the capability of production units (ie farm households) to “master and implement the design and production of goods and services that are new to them, irrespective of whether they are new to their competitors, their country, or the world” (Mytelka 2000; cited in World Bank 2006: ix). We thus assume that innovation expresses the capacity to adapt to change.

Current innovation studies agree that innovation is not a result of independent decision-making on the part of the production unit. Rather, innovation must be seen as the joint outcome of interaction among individual decision-makers, social and cultural context, institutional and organizational framework, regulatory systems, infrastructures, and so on (Mytelka and Smith 2001). Together, such interacting individuals, organizations, and institutions make up an “innovation system.” Inspired by management sciences, where the notion of an innovation system is well established, the World Bank advocates the application of a similar approach to the study of agriculture (World Bank 2006).



We contend that all 3 factors influence farming innovation. To understand farming practices, we have to take into consideration the interplay among natural resources (water and climate), individual farm resources (land and labor), and network of organizations (NNGOs, government, and private enterprises). Because farming is conditioned by natural, as well as social parameters, the term innovative place covers the situation better than innovation system, which focuses on social aspects only.

The innovative and dynamic farming system in Mardi/Nepal confirms that there is capacity for adaptation to change in the Middle Hills of Himalaya, thus modifying the most pessimistic scenarios for the future of food production in the region (Cline 2008; Sud 2009; Mittal and Sethi 2011). However, that capacity is conditioned by policies that grant farmers a certain degree of flexibility instead of recommending fixed prescriptions inferred from uncertain climate projections and other scenarios. Adaptive capacity to change for farms is encouraged if policy-makers succeed in producing innovative places where a range of possible production decisions is left open to farmers, thus enabling them to cope with variable weather and uncertain markets.

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Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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