Reaching the Unreached – the Sustainable Soil Management Programme

Place: nepal, Asia
Sustainable development of small rural communities Sustainable development of small rural communities
Total Budget: € 6.150.000,00 | Period: From January 2011 To December 2014


SSMP was launched in 1999 to combat declining soil fertility in the hills of Nepal.  A basket of appropriate and sustainable soil and farm management options were developed over the years.  The problem was then how to reach the farmers living in remote areas of poorly accessible sub-districts (VDCs).  As the government extension service was poor and very much centred in the district headquarters, it was necessary to devolve the extension service to the VDCs and establish a system and approach that worked for all farmers in all parts of Nepal.  Through the farmer to farmer approach, and the establishment of 378 VDC level committees in 7 pilot districts, the two key Government Ministries are now convinced that this is the way forward and have adopted the model for the future. As this initiative is now embedded in government policy and strategy, sustainability is ensured, thus all farmers will have access to services and assistance, especially important in these times of climate change.


HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation - NEPAL - Nepal

Lead applicant

HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Nepal has been operating in Nepal under an agreement with the Government of Nepal since 1956. Currently, HELVETAS implements 21 programmes and projects, and is active in all 75 districts of Nepal, cooperating with many national and international, private and public, technical and social organizations. All projects are designed to lead to self-propelling development and eradication of poverty, and to create environments where poor and disadvantaged people have new choices and become equipped with new skills and abilities to improve their livelihoods. HELVETAS implements projects and programmes in 5 working areas: rural economy, environment and climate, governance and peace, water and infrastructure, and education and skills development – and in all its activities promotes the principles of sustainable development, decentralization and subsidiarity in decision making, gender equality and social inclusion.

Local Service Providers (x 40) - Nepal

Initiative partner

Nepal Agriculture Research Council - Nepal

Initiative partner

Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development -Nepal - Nepal

Initiative partner

Department of Agriculture - Nepal - Nepal

Initiative partner

Activities are concerned with:- • increasing agricultural production based on geographical diversity • supporting food security by increasing food production and maintaining the internal food supply • increasing the production and productivity of raw material for the agro-industries • supporting the major producers with appropriate market management policies, skill transfer, incentives, export promotion, and import substitution • increase the availability of off-farm employment by supporting small agro-industries and enterprises • support poverty alleviation by increasing the opportunity of employment for small, marginal and women farmers • screen and standardize agri-technologies through undertaking adaptive research • striking a balance between agricultural development and conservation of resources, biodiversity and ecology.

The initiative was launched in 1999 to combat the decline in soil fertility and productivity in the hills of Nepal, and is implemented with Government bodies at central, district and local level, and local NGOs. Focusing on discriminated and poor farmers, and employing a distinctive combination of approaches, the initiative has promoted: a) proven and appropriate soil and farm management technologies, based on local resources, which have improved soil fertility and productivity, provided alternative crop options, and enhanced food security and cash income, b) a decentralized, participatory agricultural extension system, the Farmer to Farmer approach, which has devolved decision-making and responsibility for local agricultural development and extension to the VDCs, the lowest rung of administration in Nepal. Best lessons and technologies have been institutionalized in Ministerial policy, strategy,and workplans, and absorbed into several new projects.

Service provision to farmers in Nepal is very poor, the state extension efforts rarely going beyond the district headquarters.  The initiative comprises a system that reaches to every remote corner of this mountainous country through:
a) training lead farmers to become extension agents,
b) establishing agricultural development committees in each sub-district to take responsibility for local extension,
c) utilizing project and state funds for supporting farmers and providing demos and coaching services through the local committees which mobilize the trained lead farmers.
Since 2011, 1,993 extension farmers have been developed in 7 pilot districts where over 4,000 farmer groups in remote areas have been served - many of these farmers have never received assistance in the past.  The initiative has been recognized and institutionalized as the way forward by two Ministries, and has empowered local people to take responsibility for their future, especially women and the discriminated.

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf A Poster Describing the Farmer to Farmer Approach This poster, prepared for the team preparing the national Agricultural Development Strategy for Nepal, describes the FtF approach and key players and stakeholders in the initiative. In addition it records the institutions involved, the fund flows, the path by which assistance is provided to the farmers, the role of the lead farmers and the best lessons learnt from the piloting phase since 2011.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Photos of Farmer Training These pictures show the type of practical on-farm training that is provided by the Lead Farmers to farmer groups in the remote areas of Nepal. The Lead Farmers are mobilized by the local Agriculture, Environment and Forestry committees to serve other farmers.

Nepal, with a population of 27.8 million, is one of the least developed countries in the world, with one of the most inaccessible and rugged environments, and is still recovering from a period of national conflict (1995 to 2005).  25% of the population remain below the national poverty line, and up to 70% of the agricultural labour force comprises women, exacerbated by the continuing out-migration of men. The climate of the Himalayan region is predicted to be one of the most vulnerable to climate change, as is already being observed.  Food security is therefore at high risk, especially for the poor, women, children, and socially discriminated in the more remote, inaccessible areas. This initiative has succeeded in establishing a socially equitable system through which these most vulnerable people can be reached, and through awareness raising, lobbying and generating local grass roots support, institutionalizing it within government policy.

A Landslide in the Mid-hills of Nepal A landslide in Okhaldhunga District in eastern Nepal, a common scene in Nepal, especially during the monsoon season, June to September. Every year, landslides cause death, destroy homes, and damage the fragile mountain road system. Mother Nature gave us the mountains, and now she is grinding them down.
A Successful Farmer on Good Land This is the farm of Bhadra Bahadur Batala on good fertile land in a narrow valley where irrigation water is available. He is one of SSMP's leader farmers, who makes a good living from selling potatoes and other vegetables.
A Typical Mid-hills Environment in Nepal This photo shows a typical mixed farming scene in Ramechhap, an eastern mid-hills district of Nepal. Note the scattered homes and hamlets, and patches of paddy land interspersed with un-irrigated areas, forested land, pastures and degraded land, and the moderate to steep slopes.
Poverty and Poor Resources in the Mid-hills of Nepal This photo taken in Okhreni VDC in Ramechhap shows the conditions in which so many poor people live in Nepal. Note the steep, dry, stony soils, and very simple house, home to a poor and discriminated family. It is remote and inaccessible, and collection of water and fodder for the two cattle can take hours of time each day.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx A Description of the Country Context This is a brief description of the country context taken from the HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Annual Report of 2013.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Farmer Case Studies from Nepal These case studies of farmers working with SSMP reveal the on-farm, rural context of some of the more successful farmers working with the Sustainable Soil Management Programme (SSMP), their background and the impact that the project has had on their life, lifestyle and livelihoods. This is Volume 1 of a 3 part series - the third volume currently being prepared in this last year of the project.

The main results are:
a) creating a basket of options based on local resources which improve soil fertility, productivity, household income and food security – eg. improved farmyard manure/compost, collection/use of cattle urine (~1% nitrogen) for foliar feed and as a base for farm-made bio-pesticides, introduction of legumes, improved climate-disease-pest resilient vegetable, cash and grain crops into the cropping cycle to enhance income and food sufficiency and security;   
b) in the 7 current pilot districts of Nepal, 378 socially inclusive local agricultural committees have been established to manage local agricultural development and mobilize the lead farmers;
c) 1,933 lead farmers have been trained as extension agents, who have been mobilized to coach and provide inputs to over 4,000 farmer groups in remote rural areas, previously untouched by the existing state extension system;
d) empowering women and the discriminated through regular awareness and coaching on GESI.

A Meeting of an Agriculture Committee in the West of Nepal SSMP has established 378 local agriculture committees, (Agriculture, Forestry, and Environment Committees - AFECs) in its 7 districts where it is piloting the decentralized agricultural extension approach. In this photo, a meeting is taking place of the AFEC in Janalikot VDC in Achham District - also attending are staff from SSMP and the district offices, to provide training and assistance with planning future local agricultural activities.
Collecting Cattle Urine Kalyani Thapa, a farmer from Khimti VDC in Ramechhap in her cattle shed - note the pipe and cement tank for collecting cattle urine, and the adjacent well-protected farmyard manure shed. Kalyani uses the urine as a plant foliar feed, and to prepare biopesticdes, fermenting local noxious plants with the urine for 30 days.
Training an All Women Farmer Group A lead farmer, Sharada Khadkha, providing training on nursery establishment to an all women farmer group in Namadi VDC in Ramechhap'
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf A Published Paper on Soil Fertility and Carbon Capture This is one of the papers submitted by SSMP to journals for publication. The final version of this paper will be published in the Climate and Development international journal later in 2014. It describes soil analytical results – there is a statistically significant increase in organic matter and nitrogen in soils treated with sustainable soil management (SSM) technologies, and soil carbon is also trapped more efficiently in SSM soils in comparison with non-SSM soils and even forest soils.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Farm Yard Manure Sheds Photos of Farmyard Manure Sheds from across Nepal - they come in all shapes and sizes, from little to considerable investment .
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf SSMP Information Poster This poster was prepared in 2011 to showcase the technologies promoted by the project and some of the results, as well as the impacts on soil fertility, crop productivity and incomes.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx The All Women Agricultural Committee in Okhaldhunga District This is a case study of the all women AFEC established, not without a struggle, in Katunje VDC in Okhaldhunga. It describes the struggle of forming such a committee, the training and support they received, and the dreams and aspirations of the committee members.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf The SSMP End of Phase Report The attached report was prepared in July 2014, and records the results of the 4th phase (2011 to 2014) of the programme, during which period the decentralized extension initiative was the focus. It also records results of the outcome concerned with adoption of sustainable soil and farm management practices, an evaluation of the successes, failures and lessons learnt, and a number of short and long case studies (see Annexes) from the programme farmers and local agriculture committee members.

The beneficiaries are:
• the farmers and lead farmers who benefit from adopting the new technologies, the targeted training, and the improved soil fertility conditions, productivity, household income and livelihood potential, as well as the enhanced stature within the community
• the members of the local level inclusive agricultural committees who benefit from capacity building, new decision making skills, and enhanced stature within the community
• the women and the discriminated members of the above, who are the special focus of the initiative and benefit from varied training and empowerment
• the 40 local NGO implementing partners who received training and experience, especially the 36 students (all from discriminated groups, and 83% female) who were sponsored through agricultural colleges.
• the government district officers who utilize the greatly increased number of extension agents in the remote areas
• the policy makers at the Ministries who have learnt much from the initiative.

A Farmer Meeting in the the Far West of Nepal The picture records a meeting of the Malika farmer group, one of SSMP's farmer groups in Bardadevi VDC (ward-6) in Achham District. The meeting was attended by SSMP staff and members of the government district administration to discuss progress, any constraints and difficulties that the farmers were experiencing and to plan future activities.
The Agriculture, Forest and Environment Committee This photo shows the members of the AFEC soon after they were selected to form the committee in Gela VDC, Kalikot District in June 2012. They will now receive a lot of training on many topics from taking of minutes, planning, budgeting, fund management to sustainable agricultural development technologies and crops appropriate for the area. This mixed male and female, young and old group is socially inclusive and includes members of all the main ethnic groups which live in the VDC.
Training the Lead Farmers The picture shows a group of lead farmers, in Manma VDC, Kalikot District, receiving basic training in the construction of a polyhouse tunnel (June 2012). All the materials required for the construction are locally available expect for the plastic sheeting which is supplied from Kathmandu. These polytunnels are used for off-season tomatoes, which when produced in the Sept. to January period receive a high price. These lead farmers will coach other farmer groups in this and other practices.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx A Brief on Inclusion and Empowerment A brief on how the initiative empowered farmers at local level through a cross-cutting approach to behavourial change. A member of staff was dedicated to ensure that at all levels and aspects of implementation, consideration of gender, equity, and social inclusion was a primary concern. Of special importance was the focus on including the poor, discriminated and women in the decision making process, and in opportunities for becoming a lead farmer or a local agricultural committee member.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx A Brief on the Beneficiaries of the Decentralization Approach A one page brief on the establishment of the decentralized local level farmer-to-farmer extension service system , recording all the main stakeholders who are involved, from Ministry level, through district level to VDC level, the agricultural committees, and the farmer groups.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Audio-Visuals From SSMP Please see some the videos and interviews that we have recorded for SSMP over the years. These are stored in a dropbox, accessed as follows: https://www.dropbox.com/login Sign-in: e-mail: helvetas.ssmp@gmail.com password: ssmpexpo2015 go to: subdirectory named “SSMP videos”
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Farmer Case Studies Volume 2 This is a collection of 40 farmer case studies; they describe the living conditions and backgrounds of the farmers, and the impact of adopting sustainable and improved soil and farm technologies, as well as new crops. The introduction describes the fundamentals of the project initiative as well as an interview with the head of a VDC on his impressions of the project and technologies. At the end, the credo of HELVETAS and the guiding principles of the programme are documented.

The key people who implemented the initiative in the field are:
• the 36 professional staff of the Sustainable Soil Management Programme (36% female) – with skills in agriculture, extension, management, administration and finance
• the 119 staff (45% female) of the local NGOs in the districts – with detailed local knowledge and skills in mobilization and agriculture
• the specialist staff of the 7 District Agriculture Development Offices, and the state administrators and planners in the 7 District Development Councils
• the 5 professional staff of the Soil Management Division of the DoA in Kathmandu
• the 4,401 members (41% discriminated, 31% female) of the Agriculture, Forest, Environment Committees established in each sub-district  – local residents, mostly farmers, who after capacity building, mobilize the lead farmers to assist other farmer groups
• in terms of policy change, the senior officials in the Ministries of Agriculture Development and Federal Affairs and Local Development

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf A Review of the Farmer to Farmer Approach This is a short paper which describes the FtF approach, its decentralization to the local sub-district level, and the key stakeholders involved.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Key Players Involved - ProDoc These 4 Annexes from the SSMP Phase 4 Project Document summarize the roles and responsibilities of some of the key players, as envisaged at the time of programme preparation.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Staff and Institutions Involved in the Initiative A chart of those involved in the initiative from ministerial level to the farmers.

The main obstacles during implementation have been:
• due to the civil conflict (1996 to 2006), and subsequent political inertia, there have been no local elections for 14 years in Nepal, thus there is a political and democratic vacuum at both district and sub-district (VDC) levels
• in order to create a decentralized extension system at the VDC, local level bodies were established at the VDCs
• long-term campaigning at central, district and VDC levels was undertaken to persuade politicians, bureaucrats and administrators that this was the best way forward in reaching the unreached rural farmers
• interference from political parties was experienced but was overcome by enthusiastic support from local communities, the District administrators and the central Ministries – the Agriculture Ministry has out-scaled the establishment of local agricultural committees to 33 new districts, and the Local Government Ministry has directed the VDCs to spend at least 15% of state funds on agriculture.

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Decentralizing the FtF Approach - Challenges and Opportunities This is a paper that was presented at a workshop in Kathmandu in 2013. Sections 4 and 5 cover the Challenges in reaching the unreached and the lessons learnt and results. It particularly focuses on the difficulties of including women and the discriminated in the programme activities and the decentralized extension process.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Poster - Driving Forward the Empowerment of the Disadvantaged Another major challenge was bringing on board the poor, the women and the discriminated to the local decision making process. This poster was presented at a Workshop in Interlaken, Switzerland in 2013, and describes the decentralization process and how the project has assisted in overcoming the long-held traditional mindset in relation to the position of women and the discriminated in Nepali society.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf The Need for Capacity Building in the Decentralisation Process This paper highlights the need for change in roles when decentralized extension is introduced, and the challenges in capacity building of leader farmers (section 2.1.1), who are the engines of the farmer-to-farmer approach, and the local agri-committees (section 2.1.2) who will manage local agricultural development in the future. The capacity building programme is a big challenge, and requires much manpower from both private and public sector, and central and district level.

The following positive impacts have derived from the initiative:
a) due to improved preparation of farmyard manure, compost and bio-pesticides based on cattle urine, less use of agro-chemicals, often of poor quality in rural Nepal
b) due to adoption of appropriate farm technologies, labour, drudgery and time spent on farm activities have been reduced, especially beneficial for women
c) research has shown that adoption of improved soil management technologies, has increased soil organic matter levels – statistically significant from over 300 soil samples
d) the same soil management technologies increase soil carbon storage to a greater extent than both non-treated soils and forest soils
e) as fodder, forage and agroforestry are included in the promotion programme, biodiversity is enhanced
f) establishment of local agriculture committees, permits local stakeholders control of their own environment and community lands, and the provision of locally appropriate advice to all farmers

../file-system/small/doc ../file-system/small/doc A Study on Soil Carbon This paper reviews the effect of sustainable soil management practices on the distribution of soil organic carbon in soils of the mid-hills of Nepal, prepared as part of the requirements of an MPhil undertaken by a student sponsored by SSMP. In summary, it records that soils where sustainable management practices have been practiced store more carbon than both untreated soils and forest soils. Thus, in terms of climate change and carbon capture, the sustainable options need to be out-scaled.
../file-system/small/doc ../file-system/small/doc A Survey on the Use of Bio-pesticides in Nepal This study, undertaken by a female intern who worked for 12 months with SSMP, examines the use of locally made biopesticides in 2 of the programme districts in Nepal, and the feedback received from farmers. Tables in section 6.3 list the use of agronomic techniques and farm-made bio-pesticides in relation to pest and disease control.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Climate Smart Farming Tehcnologies This paper, presented at a workshop in Sri Lanka in July 2014, outlines the climate smart practices promoted by SSMP, especially those that promote improved soil fertility. Most of the technologies and practices promoted through the lead farmers in this initiative are environment friendly, and have little or no negative impact on the environment.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Climate Smart Technologies This one-page brief describes in summary the on-farm climate smart farm management technologies for the farmers of the mid-hills in Nepal, and results of SSMP’s initiatives.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Environmentally Friendly Technologies Which Also Save Labour Contained in this document are four of the labour saving technologies which save time and labour - especially of women. All these practices also have positives in terms of the environment, health, and agricultural productivity.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Technologies and Practices Promoted by SSMP This brief note describes the main practices and technologies that are promoted by SSMP through the decentralized extension service - most of them are based on the sustainable use of local resources, thus are climate smart and economic.

The initiative is sustainable because:
• the decentralized extension system has the potential to dramatically improve agricultural services to all Nepali farmers; the reform is supported by the Agriculture and Local Development Ministries, and all the District administrations and local communities in the 7 pilot districts - both Ministries have instructed their staff to assist in establishing the local Committees at the VDC
• currently, a guideline on the management and operation of local agricultural development is at Cabinet level and approval is expected in the near future
• the Agriculture Ministry has incorporated many of the sustainable practices and approaches into its long-term strategies and current workplans, has out-scaled the approach and technologies to 33 new districts, and issued a directive in 2012 that all its district staff should promote these practices
• the Local Development Ministry issued a directive that 15% of VDC funds must be used for agriculture.

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Directive from the Ministry of Agroculture This letter of December 2012, is signed by the Director General of the Department of Agriculture, records the decision of the Secretary of the Ministry at the programme’s Steering Committee, and directs all 75 District Agriculture Development Officers in the country to play a proactive role in lobbying for the 15% allocation for agriculture, and to include sustainable soil management practices and the FtF extension approach in their annual plans and activities.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Directive from the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development The attached is the 2011 directive from the MoFALD to all VDCs in the country to ensure that at least 15% of the VDC budgets are transparently used for local agriculture development, and for listed agricultural programmes which include many of the sustainable soil management practices and programme approaches – eg. the FtF approach using local resource persons (eg. lead farmers). This was a decision of the Secretariat of the Ministry and approved by the Cabinet.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx One of SSMP's Lead Farmers in a School Textbook The attached document describes how one of SSMP’s lead farmers has found himself and his activities in a school text book.

a) field campaigns and demos on sustainable technologies and decentralized extension through rallies, local press releases and farmer interviews, FM radio, and audio-visual documentaries,
b) 27 intensively-used training manuals in Nepali for farmers, lead farmers and other actors, including government staff, involved in extension
c) 12 case studies on innovative technologies and approaches included on the WOCAT database
d) posters for workshops and training sessions on decentralization of agricultural extension, gender and inclusion issues, sustainable technologies, value-chains, marketing and business development,
e) 2 published volumes of farmer case studies and success stories
f) scientific papers published in various international and national journals, and presented at workshops in London, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Switzerland, and Nepal
g) integrated plant nutrient calculator and manuals; currently developing a mobile app. to provide on-farm advice to farmers on soil/plant nutrition.

Campaigning for Agricultural Development A rally in 2012 of local farmers, organised by the Agriculture, Forestry and Environment Committee of the Kuntadevi VDC (in Okhaldhunga District, eastern Nepal) and SSMP, to support the use of government VDC funds for agricultural development and promotion of sustainable soil management practices.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx A Knowledge Management Snippet This snippet was prepared for the Helvetas website - it concerns the table nursery promoted initially in Okhaldhunga District in the eats of Nepal, after being observed on a farm of a particularly innovative farmer. It has since spread to neighboring districts, as it saves time and labour, and produces more healthy seedling.s
../file-system/small/doc ../file-system/small/doc A Training Pamphlet for Farmers - in Nepali Another example of the way in which SSMP reaches farmers - this two page pamphlet encourages farmers to adopt practices to improve their farmyard manure management and collect cattle urine which contains around 1% nitrogen. It is provided as a handout to the lead farmers who are mobilized to coach other farmer groups.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf A Value Chain & Marketing Systems Poster This more recent poster was developed from findings and observation from SSMP, and was presented at a workshop in Vietnam in 2013.
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx An On-farm Crop Nutrient Calculator A programme is currently being developed in both android (.app) and desktop (.exe) formats to allow for on-farm calculation of crop nutrient requirements – it is being developed for both food security grains, as well as income generation cash and vegetable crops. It is designed on the basis of integrated plant nutrient management, and encourages the replacement of commercial fertilizer with farmyard manures, composts, and cattle urine. A working model is due for completion in November 2014.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Poster Preparation at the International Soils Congress in 2006 This poster was presented earlier in the project, following an invitation to an international soils congress.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Sustainable Soil Management, 2011 This poster was prepared for training and exposure at larger more international events such as the National Open Days of SSMP.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf The Farmer to Farmer Approach - in Nepali many of the programme's training materials are in Nepali so that they are directly accessible to Farmers, lead farmers and the staff of the implementing agencies in the districts, the NGOs. This is an early example of the posters used for training.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf The SSMP Pamphlet This is a brief pamphlet that SSMP prepared as a handout, explaining the different aspects, outcomes and approaches of the project.
../file-system/small/page ../file-system/small/page The SSMP Website http://nepal.helvetas.org/en/our_projects/ssmp.cfm The above is the address of the SSMP website.
../file-system/small/doc ../file-system/small/doc WOCAT Technology Sheet - Lowcost Polyhouses This technology sheet was prepared by SSMP in 2011 for the WOCAT website of suitable technologies for small holder farmers. It describes the construction of polyhouses from materials which are largely available locally. 11 previous technologies has previosuly been submitted and accepted by WOCAT: https://www.wocat.net/en/knowledge-base/technologiesapproaches.html