Nepal’s Digital Groundwater Monitoring Pilot Kicks Off with Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue
Together, digital monitoring and readily available data on the status of groundwater resources provide a critical foundation for sustainable irrigation development. While much is known about surface water resources and hydrological and meteorological linkages between the Terai, Mid-Hills and Himalaya regions of Nepal, the country currently lacks a comprehensive system for groundwater resource monitoring. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) are partnering with the government of Nepal’s Groundwater Resources Development Board to conduct a pilot system that responds to this crucial information gap and aims to identify an approach that can be gradually scaled out after project completion.
To this end, the project organized an inception and consultation workshop, held virtually on October 14, 2020. This was the first in a series under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) Nepal COVID-19 and Resilience project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Nepal, which supports farmers and rural economies in their response to COVID-19 and addresses, among other things, various issues and ways forward for sustainable irrigation development. The session aimed to introduce the digital groundwater monitoring pilot to local stakeholders, to identify monitoring objectives and information needs, facilitate multi-stakeholder and inter-ministerial dialogue, and generate feedback and endorsement of the project plan. Participants were from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines and included members of local and national authorities, research centers and universities.
The event was opened by Madhukar Rajbhandari, director general of the Department of Water Resources and Irrigation. During his address, Mr. Rajbhandari underlined the importance of groundwater irrigation for Nepal’s farming system and livelihoods. He also captured the challenges which the country faces when developing groundwater irrigation, from polluted water resources through urbanization to lack of market access and the high maintenance costs of irrigation infrastructure. He mentioned that “agricultural and irrigation projects lack coordination” and expressed his hope that “through this pilot, ways are paved for a collaborative approach to develop practical groundwater solutions for farmers.”
The session continued by introducing the project and its background to the participants, leading to breakout sessions for two groups, the first containing local, state and national government representatives, and the second comprising farmers, researchers and industry members. The groups were asked to identify the groundwater monitoring objectives and information needs that they would have as different types of users and to provide feedback and recommendations to improve the project work plan. While the government representatives were largely interested in developing a better understanding of the groundwater development potential, researchers and farmers were more concerned with possible discharge and water quality. Monitoring frequency was also identified as useful for daily to monthly timescales.
The discussion revealed the keen interest of participants in consolidating and monitoring groundwater information, which highlights the importance of stakeholder engagement when developing pilots such as these. Engagement during the pilot process ensures that when scaling is achieved, it caters to the needs expressed by stakeholders. Participants also expressed a strong interest in bringing the results of the project within the ambit of national policy, which would achieve the streamlining of data collection protocols for standardized, publicly accessible data collection mechanisms.
In his closing remarks, CIMMYT’s Project Leader Timothy Krupnik, with the support of IWMI researcher Mr. Vishnu Pandey, stated, “It’s very encouraging to see such active participation and engagement of all the participants throughout the workshop — we look forward to maintaining this momentum to support Nepal’s efforts in strengthening its capacity for sustainable irrigation.”