Advancing Food Security via Harvested Rainwater in Nepal: A Research and Capacity Building Program

Climate change, population growth, and escalating fresh water demands for food production are stressing communities worldwide, especially those in low- and middle-income countries, such as Nepal, that have agricultural-dependent economies. Geographical location (e.g., villages located 1,400-2,000m above sea level), frequent power cuts, and lack of access to clean irrigation water place additional burdens on Nepali farming communities. To meet increasing demands for fresh irrigation water, Sanskriti Farms has developed ultra-violet resistant, plastic-lined ponds that capture and store excess rainwater. To date, more than 200 ponds have been installed in the Kavre district, Nepal, benefiting over 1,000 families, which were created by Sanskriti Farms and Research Center. These ponds have enabled families to irrigate food crops during the dry season which lasts for nine months. However, yet, a routine water quality testing program has not been established to ensure that the harvested rainwater is free of potential pathogens that are harmful to human health. Harvested rainwater has long been considered a potential alternative to groundwater and surface water resources. Since Nepal receives monsoon rains from June to early October, tapping into this freshwater source and storing it for future use is an attractive strategy to alleviate both water and food insecurity. Nevertheless, before this practice can be expanded, it is necessary to improve understanding of the microbiological quality of this water source. A preliminary study from our lab revealed the presence of E. coli and other live bacterial pathogens (Actinobacteria, Flavobacterium spp., Pseudomonas spp. and Aeromonas spp) in rooftop harvested rainwater recovered in Maryland. Additionally, we tracked the presence of these bacteria in irrigated soil and produce.

Study Duration: 06/2022 – Present

Objectives:
The overarching goal of our study is to conduct field-based research and engage in community-driven capacity building focused on improving rainwater harvesting in rural Nepal.

Outcomes:
This study is still underway, and we expect to evaluate the microbial burden in the irrigation pond as well as assess it overall quality. Regarding our local on-farm capacity building approach, in the short term our demonstration site will enable community members to learn how to appropriately collect, test and treat water samples for the presence of E. coli using the low-cost compartment bag test. Meanwhile, our curricular-based approach will train future Nepali leaders in sustainable water reuse, impart skills in systems thinking and provide professional development opportunities.

 Team Members:

Co-Principal Investigator(s): Prof. Dr. Rajeev Shrestha, Dr. Leena Malayil

Co-Investigator(s): Nishan Katuwal, Shree Krishna Dhital, Dr. Amy Rebecca Sapkota, Dr. Biraj Man Karmacharya

Project Coordinator: Nishan Katuwal

Research Assistant(s): Sudichyya Tamrakar

Supported by: Conservation, Food & Health Foundation (CFHF)

Collaborating Partners: University of Maryland, USA and Sanskriti Farms and Research Center, Nepal