Kathmandu resident Tara Ghimire said she buys buckwheat and millet flour from Dhakal’s shop – and was happy to pay the premium – because she believed local crops were better for her.
“Local crops are tasty and healthy,” the 45-year-old said. “Money is nothing compared to health.”
Despite the growing popularity, local crop varieties are scarce across Nepal as farmers tend to favour hybrid varieties that are more productive in good conditions and therefore more profitable.
Traditional knowledge about local seeds – and efforts to protect them – have waned in many rural communities, according to several residents.
About 40% of Nepal’s local seed varieties have disappeared from the country’s mountain region, where many indigenous crops from barley to buckwheat were once common, said Ram Prasad Mainali, a scientist at the National Agriculture Research Center.
However, as the farming sector increasingly suffers weather shocks – from worsening drought to rising heat – agriculture experts say investing in native crops could act as a buffer and ultimately ensure the country’s food supply is more sustainable.
“Local and traditional crop varieties are more resilient to changing environmental conditions as they have developed over time through natural selection and adaptation,” said Sabnam Shivakoti, joint secretary at the agriculture ministry.
LACK OF LOCAL SEEDS
However, there is hardly a widespread desire to return to farming traditional crops, in a country where 80% of the population of 28 million rely on agriculture to make a living.
In Nepal’s Rupandehi district, in western Lumbini province, two farmers said that local varieties of rice – like Basmati and Saro – had been completely replaced by hybrid varieties.
“We want productivity and return on our investment, and local crops don’t give a return,” said farmer Ramesh Sharma.
Sharma said he previously harvested about 240kg of rice a year using native seeds, but had more than tripled his annual yields since switching entirely to hybrid seeds in 2022.
About 125km away – in Arghakhanchi district – farmer Nirmala Pandey explained how she used to grow local varieties of crops such as corn, cucumber and okra at home until 15 years ago.
Now, those seeds have become extinct in the area, she said.
“The seeds of all crops can be bought in the store and so we started planting hybrid crops of which the seeds come from outside Nepal,” Pandey added.
Losses of indigenous crops across Nepal have also been fuelled by internal migration from rural areas to cities, with large swathes of previously fertile land once sown with local seeds now left barren, conservation officials said.
Between 25-40% of cultivated land in the country is barren, according to the government’s Center for Crop Development and Agro Biodiversity Conservation.