Review Article
Adaptive Strategies to Scarcer Irrigation Waters caused by Changing Climates
Jagat K Bhusal* and P Eng
Corresponding Author: Dr. Jagat K Bhusal, Ex-Chairman, Electricity Tariff Fixation Commission, Government of Nepal, Nepal
Received: August 10, 2019; Accepted: November 01, 2019 Available Online: December 09, 2019
Citation: Bhusal JK & Eng P. (2020) Adaptive Strategies to Scarcer Irrigation Waters caused by Changing Climates. J Agric Forest Meteorol Res, 3(4): 355-360.
Copyrights: ©2020 Bhusal JK & Eng P. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Share :
  • 323

    Views & Citations

This is a review article focused to author’s research on “Coping with Climate Change: Water Availability and Adaptive Strategies in Irrigation practices in Mustang, Nepal” and related publications on the implication of climate change on water availability, where residents depend on farming for their livelihood and where water is becoming a crucial resource especially for irrigation, livestock and farming. Social, agricultural and hydro-met data available on and collected from the pilot areas were used in the analysis. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were treated as complementary rather than competitive. It was found that the effect of global warming on mountain hydrology has been impacting the existing yield pattern of water sources, the river flows, forests and vegetation grows and grazing lands and other resources on which mountain people are dependent on their livelihoods. If the trend on the average temperature rising continues as the prediction made by various researchers on climate change, it would have a serious impact on human and natural life in the mountainous people in the coming years.


Keywords: Climate change, Irrigation practices, Adaptive strategies, Livelihoods


Many rural areas of Nepal are in rapid transformation phase in social and economic change, urbanization, out-migration [1-3] increased off-farm employment opportunities, increased absentee landowners and sharecroppers, and their higher education levels leading to diversifying social values [4]. Several recent works suggest that adjustment within irrigation systems is based on a process which includes the introduction of an innovation‚ field trials and adoption‚ modified adoption or rejection [5-8]. Attitudes and aspirations play a crucial role in participatory irrigation management and irrigation management transfer programs [9]. The incentive is an important ingredient in addition to the perception reforms for effective operation of the water user association driven participatory irrigation management program [10-12]. Indigenously managed farmers' irrigation systems in Mustang of Nepal are built and sustained on the foundations of power relations and social differentiation. Water rules and rights are exclusively power ridden in such systems [13]. The decreasing trend in livestock’s pastureland and horticulture like apple production and natural herbs is an eminent concern [14,15]. Water shortages in the region inherent by the changing climates have been not only putting stresses in the local livelihoods [16,17] but also creating water conflicts between communities [18,19]. The increase in surface temperature has been affecting the existing water availability situation [6,20,21] has been opening an opportunity of growing new crops. In such a complicated situation, local households have to cope with the water shortage through various ways and means in order to continue their farming system and improve their livelihoods [22,23]. On the other side, the rising trend of temperature in the mountain areas has been opening the opportunity of growing new crops. Apple farms traditionally being used at lowlands are found affected by rising temperatures [24] whereas new areas of higher altitude are becoming productive to apple [25]. There are numerous studies on climate change and effects in diverse areas but irrigation systems   in   high   altitude   areas   in  Nepal  remained  less assessed [26]. The effect of climate change on water availability and implication in local irrigation water has not been investigated in depth by taking cases of Trans-Himalayan areas [27]. Therefore, research works were focused to address issues on how local households in the mountain areas are coping with climate change and what are their adaptive strategies. Research questions included were (a) what are the trends of change in the seasonal temperature and precipitation in the study area (b) what implication has climate change placed in water availability situation and irrigation practices in the study area (c) how have the farm households perceived the impact of climate change on their farming system and effectively managed water needs for their crops focused on irrigation practices?


The Trans-Himalayan area of Mustang of Nepal has been selected for the study (Figure 1). The research area lies above 3000 m altitude in the Himalayan region of Nepal and falls in the rain shadow area of Dhaulagiri (Peak- 8,167 m above mean sea level) and Annapurna (Peak- 8,091 m) massifs in the Himalayas. The area is categorized as the cold arid zone of Nepal Himalaya. 

Historically, the area was said to be dependent mainly on agro-pastorism [28-30]. The agro-pastoral life was easier in the past because of the smaller population density and the abundance of virgin natural resources including freshwater [31]. People had had been accessing freely the highland pasturelands. With passes of time and environmental changes, highland pasture productivity and irrigation waters have been reducing in line with decreasing snowfall and changing rainfall patterns [32,23]. In the course of development, irrigation practices were followed with time [33]. The decreasing trend in the livestock’s pastureland, horticulture like apple farming has emerged as an eminent alternative in sustaining local livelihoods in addition to agricultural farming in the region [9,24,30,34]. As the region consists of beautiful landscapes with cultural heritages and so tourism is also emerging as a part of the support of agricultural-based livelihoods [29,14,35].


Data for the analysis included long-term precipitation and stream flows [36-40] and in situ hydro-met data observations, peoples’ perception, key informant interviews and focused group discussions [19,27]. Fieldwork was carried out in 2010 and from 2012 to 2015. People’s perceptions and their understanding of climate change are validated by statistical analysis of observed quantitative science data on stream flows, precipitation and temperature.

For the sale of bio fuels a final adjustment is done for the ash The research methodology on coping with climate change and adaptive strategies in irrigation practices incorporate processes of natural and social sciences. The paradigm of the research adopted in the research is the mixed method, which is also categorized as pragmatic research [41,42] and a method that moves both forth and back between induction and deduction reasoning [43]. The research model was the process model followed by the mixed research process model (reduced size) by Johnson and Onwuegbuzie [44] with slight modification. In this research, both quantitative and qualitative methods are treated as complementary rather than competitive.


The research findings included climate change, i.e., changes in temperature and precipitation pattern, water availability situations and adaptation to climate change by locals. The rising trend of the mean annual temperature in Nepal will be in 0.045°C per year whereas the study carried out over the region showed that the rising trend on average maximum temperature (April to August) is 0.019°C per year and the rate of change on average minimum temperature (January to March) is 0.004°C per year. The maximum temperatures for May, July and August have increased at a rate of 0.03°C per year. The annual runoff on the Kaligandaki River at a monitoring location is found to have increased at a rate of 2.3 mm/year over the period 1975 to 2012. The reason for the increased surface runoff in the main Kaligandaki River is the rise of surface temperatures. But water sources fed by springs are found decreasing due to drying up springs. The drying of spring is caused by decreasing inputs by infiltration caused by fewer snow accumulations. The thinning frequency of snowfall, the temporal and the spatial variability in precipitation induced by climate change is the main reason that yields on most of the water sources went on decreasing and drying out. If a significant rise in temperature continues, runoff in the snow-fed streams increases for some years but water sources fed by spring would go drying out due to decreasing inputs as infiltration.

The major crops in the communities in Mustang Nepal are naked wheat, barley, buckwheat and potato. Pulses and maize are also grown. The total area of the pilot locations used for naked wheat and barley is 52% and 13%, respectively. Apple trees have been occupied 29% of the total cultivated land and are in increasing trend. While in summer, 39% of areas are cultivated for buckwheat, followed by 11% for potato. Out of the total labor, 27% labor goes to plowing and land preparation, 33% labor force is required for harvesting whereas weeding requires 22%. The analysis revealed that available water is enough during the summer, but it seemed insufficient for the non-irrigated areas and for areas left barren that are potentially cultivable. About 25% of areas that can be cultivated are left barren because of water scarcity.

Farmers of the area are not aware of the fact of how much water they need for all crops and for all cultivable land they hold or land they are cultivating. Farmers do not have access also to the basic scientific information on crop water requirements and frequencies of irrigation that they need for each crop they sow. In flooding irrigation, communities could realize that the downward seepage rate equals or surpassing the horizontal sheet flow irrigation in low water due to which a long time is required to irrigate a plot or not possible to irrigate completely. People are feeling the changes but, are found to be unaware of the scientific reasoning of climate variability underpinned effects on water sources. Farmers lack knowledge of the porosity of soils and infiltration therein. Therefore strategically, large terraces are divided into several parts to irrigate from a small volume of water. Also, because of the adverse impact of climate change in water sources, people are now considering land and water as two separate ownership. People have been adopting the practice of selling land without selling water right inherited with it. Communities have been adopting with scarce waters by crop diversification as well as by land abandonment. Farmers strategically used apple farming instead of land leaving barren. Apple farming strategy is emerging as an option to cope with scarce water as well as to manage labor shortages. Locals’ food behavior is found directly related to climate changes in the area. The decrease in crop production at the local level has been resulting in food habit changes which have been enhancing the increase of imported crops like rice and dry foods.


People are adopting irrigation practices at their own innovative knowledge but are not fully aware of the linkages of water sources with the hydrological cycles and climate change. There is a knowledge gap in understanding that the drying of spring is due to decreasing inputs by infiltration caused by fewer snow accumulations. The thinning frequency of snowfall, the temporal and the spatial variability in precipitation is the main reason that yields on most of the water sources went on decreasing and drying out. The study showed that the inherent cause of drying sources of water was found to be a root cause of water conflicts and disputes among communities where there are limited cultivable lands and food security demanded available land to be cultivated (Figure 2).


The research findings have shown that snow melts and its contribution to maintaining soil moistures and crop water requirements have been playing a major role in peoples’ livelihoods and food security.

It is thus, concluded that unless the regular precipitation as snowfall resumes in the winter with a longer period of snow accumulation in the area and drizzly type of rainfall in the monsoon, spring sources would not yield water constantly as in the past. The strategies adopted on only traditional knowledge would be ineffective in minimizing effects in the local livelihoods induced by climate change.


The study also supported that the effect of global warming on mountain hydrology has been impacting the existing yield pattern of water sources, the river flows, forest and vegetation grow and grazing land and other resources on which mountain people are dependent on their livelihood. If the present prediction on the average temperature rising trend continues, it would have a serious impact on human and natural life in the coming years.


1.       Schroeder RF (1985) Himalayan subsistence systems: Indigenous agriculture in rural Nepal. Mountain Res Dev 5: 31-44.

2.       Tulachan P, Susanne VD, Thomas H (2001) Seasonal migration and trade: A strategy of survival by the Lobas of Lo Manthang, (eds). Aspects of Migration and Mobility in Nepal. Ratna Pustak Bhandar: Kathmandu, pp: 43-72.

3.       Subedi BP (1993) Continuity and change in population movement: From inside a rural Nepali community. Michigan U.M.I., Dissertation Information Services.

4.       Gautam U, Pradhan P, Joshi NM (1980) Trajectory of farmer managed irrigation system. Kathmandu, Nepal: 147, Farmers Managed Irrigation Systems Promotion Trust.

5.       David W, Brokensha D, Warren DM, Werner O (1980) Indigenous knowledge systems and development. University Press of America: Wiley Online Library.

6.       Richards P (1985) Indigenous agricultural revolution: Ecology and food production in West Africa. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p: 192.

7.       David WR, Wegerich K (2009) The three blind spots of Afghanistan: Water flow, Irrigation development and the impact of climate change. China and Eurasia 7: 115-133.

8.       Singh AM (2010) Modernization of farmer’s managed irrigation systems. Hydro Nepal 6.

9.       Gurung DB, Poudel DP (2004) Re-study of baseline and key effect monitoring survey of Thini-Jomsom Sub Project, Tiri Sub Project and Khinga Sub Project. Pokhara: Himalayan Research Centre for Collaborative Irrigation Research Project (Phase one) Aalborg University, Denmark.

10.    Ostrom E (1992) Crafting institutions for self-governing irrigation systems. San Francisco: ICS Press.

11.    Yoder R (1994) Organization and management by farmers in the Chhattis Mauja irrigation system, Nepal. IIMI 8.

12.    DoI (2015) Community Managed Irrigated Agriculture Sector Project (CMIASP). Department of Irrigation.

13.    Chalaune P (2009) Water, wealth and power: A case study from upper mustang of Nepal. Sociology at the Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology 11: 104-125.

14.    Gurung L, David G, Simmons, Stephen R, Espiner (2013) Exploring links between tourism and agriculture in sustainable development: A case study of Kagbeni VDC, Nepal. New Zealand: Lincoln University.

15.    Pratap U, Pratap T (2001) Declining apple production and worried Himalayan farmers: Promotion of honeybees for pollination. Issues in Mountain Development. Kathmandu, Nepal: ICIMOD.

16.    IPCC (2013) Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (T. D.-K. Stocker, Ed.) Cambridge, UK and New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.

17.    IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Pachauri RK & Meyer LA, Eds.) Geneva, Switzerland: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

18.    Basnet BG (2007) Water of discord, water of unity: An ethnography study of the struggle for water rights in upper Mustang, Nepal. A Ph.D. Dissertation submitted to the Graduate Faculty of The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

19.    Bhusal JK, Subedi BP (2014) Climate change induced water conflict in the Himalayas: A case study from Mustang, Nepal. ECOPERSIA 2: 585-595.

20.    Chaulagain NP (2006) Impacts of climate change on water resources of Nepal: The physical and socioeconomic dimensions. Ph.D. dissertation. Flensburg: Zur Erlangung des Grades: Doktor der Wirtschaftswissenschaften (Dr. rer. Pol.) an der Universität.

21.    Manandhar S, Vogt DS, Perret SR, Kazama F (2010) Adapting cropping systems to climate change in Nepal: A cross-regional study of farmers’ perception and practices. Reg Environ Change 11: 335-348.

22.    Sharma VR, Gurung BS, Poudel PC (1996) Socio-economic baseline study of Thini sub project. Dahaulagiri Irrigation Development Project, Pokhara: Himalayan Reserach Centre.

23.    Bhusal JK, Chapagain PS (2011) Impacts of climate change on hydrological regime and local livelihood in the upper Kaligandaki river basin of Nepal. The Second International Symposium on Building Knowledge Bridges for a Sustainable Water Future, 21-24 November, 2011. Panama: The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and UNESCO.

24.    Gauchan A (2010) Climatic risk and hazards on commercial apple farming in Mustang district. Pokhara, Nepal: DHM.

25.    Chapagain PS, Bhusal JK (2013) Changing water regime and adaptation strategies in upper Mustang valley of upper Kaligandaki basin in Nepal. Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions.

26.    MoSTE (2014) Second national communication to the United Nations framework convention on climate change. Kathmandu: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Kathmandu: Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, Government of Nepal.

27.    Bhusal JK, Subedi BP, Khanal NR (2018) Coping with climate change: Water availability and adaptive strategies in irrigation waters in a trans-Himalayan basin. Horticulture International Journal.

28.    Bista HJ, Heide SV (1997) An account of cultural heritage and nature conservation in Mustang, Nepal. International Journal of Heritage Studies 3: 1470-3610.

29.    Bajracharya SB (2004) Community involvement in conservation: An assessment of impacts and implications in the Annapurna conservation area. Scotland, UK: University of Edinburgh.

30.    Brandt JS, Haynes MA, Kuemmerle T, Waller DM, Radeloff VC (2013) Regime shift on the roof of the world: Alpine meadows converting to shrublands in the southern Himalayas. Biol Conserv 158: 12-16.

31.    Knörzer KH (2000) 3000 years of agriculture in a valley of the High Himalayas. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 9: 219-222.

32.    Baidya S, Shrestha M, Sheikh M (2008) Trends in daily climatic extremes of temperature and precipitation in Nepal. J Hydrol Meteorol (Nepal) 5: 38-51.

33.    Malla G (2008) Climate change and its impact on Nepalese agriculture. J Agric Environ 9: 62-71.

34.    NTNC (2008) Sustainable development plan of Mustang. Kathmandu, Nepal: National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC).

35.    Jigme HH, Susanne VD (1997) An account of cultural heritage and nature conservation in Mustang, Nepal. International Journal of Heritage Studies 3: 1470-3610.

36.    DIHM (1977) Climatological records of Nepal, 1921-1975, special supplement Kathmandu valley. Volume II. Kathmandu: Department of Irrigation, Hydrology and Meteorology (DIHM), Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Irrigation.

37.    DHM (1999) In daily precipitation records of Gandaki and Narayani zone through 1996. Nepal: HMG/N.

38.    DHM (1999 & 2000) Daily precipitation records of Mahakali, Seti, Karnali, Gandaki, Narayani, Lumbini, Bagmati, Janakpur and Sagarmatha, Zone through 1996. Kathmandu: Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), Government of Nepal.

39.    DHM (2008) In stream flow summary (1962-2006). Nepal: HMG/N.

40.    DHM (1999) In daily precipitation records of Gandaki and Narayani Zone through 1996, Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), HMG/N, Nepal.

41.    Creswell JW, Clark VL (2011) Best practices for mixed methods research in the health sciences. Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR).

42.    Tashakkori A (2003) Major issues and controversies in the use of mixed methods in the social and behavioral sciences. In Teddlie C, Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research. Thousand Oaks, Sage, CA.

43.    Morgan DL (2007) Paradigms lost and pragmatism regained: Methodological implications of combining qualitative and quantitative methods. J Mixed Methods Res, pp: 48-76.

44.    Johnson RB, Onwuegbuzie AJ (2004) Mixed methods research: Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educ Res 33: 14-26.