The main occupation of the people of Mustang and Bajhang districts is agriculture, especially potato, barley and maize production in the lower altitudes. Lately, growing vegetables and apples has increased in Mustang whereas Bajhang is confined to traditional subsistence agriculture practices. Mustang, being a tourist destination, has the benefit of additional opportunities from tourism.
Generally, the average land holding capacity in the Bajhang district varies from 0.4 to 0.6 hectares (ha) per household. The variation of land holding capacity is seen to be affected by castes of the people and also equally due to altitudinal regions. In the Mustang district, the land holding capacity of each household varied a lot. People with a small land area only have less than a hectare of land, whereas people, mainly of the Chhongu village, on average owned 1.25 to 3 ha of land per household.
3.1.3. Soil Properties
• Soil physical properties of Bajhang and Mustang
The texture of the soil is one of the key characteristics considered for soil classification. Fertility levels of the soil along with water retention and aeration also depend on soil texture (Table 2
• Chemical parameters
The chemical characteristics were analyzed in the laboratory. The results are tabulated below (Table 3
) and discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.
1. Soil pH Value
The soil provides plants with essential nutrients such as calcium (Ca), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and magnesium (Mg) which are affected by the acidity of the soil (pH) [16
]. In the case of strongly acidic soil, agricultural lime and animal manures can be applied to avoid a further increase in soil acidity. Most of the soil samples were found to be alkaline which lowers the availability of many soil nutrients such as iron, zinc, copper and manganese. So, in order to meet a healthy crop production quantity, efforts should be made to lower the pH of soil. According to Oosterbaan [17
], the causes of soil alkalinity are natural or they can be man-made. The natural development is due to the presence of soil minerals producing sodium carbonate upon weathering. According to him, alkaline soils can be reclaimed with grass cultures, ensuring the incorporation of much acidifying organic material into the soil, and leaching of the excess sodium (Na). Deep ploughing and incorporating the calcareous sub-soil into the top-soil also help to normalize the acidity and alkalinity of the soil. It is also possible to reclaim alkaline soils by adding acidifying minerals such as pyrite (FeS2
). If necessary, gypsum (calcium sulphate, CaSO4
) can also be applied as a source of Ca(++) ions. Oosterbaan [17
] adds that in order to reclaim the soils properly, one needs prohibitively high of doses of amendments. Most efforts are therefore directed to improving the top layer only, as the top layer is most sensitive to structural deterioration [17
2. Total Nitrogen (TN)
According to Silva and Uchida [17
], a moderate amount of nitrogen is needed for all of the enzymatic reactions in a crop. Nitrogen is also a major part of the chlorophyll molecule and is therefore necessary for photosynthesis. N also improves the quality and quantity of dry matter in leafy vegetables and protein in grain crops [18
]. N deficiency causes early maturity in some crops, which results in a significant reduction in yield and quality. In order to overcome such problem, TN can be increased by the continuous application of farmyard manure (FYM) [19
], resulting in increases from 0.09% to 0.17% in the long-term application of FYM.
3. Available Phosphorous (AP)
One of the reasons for the level of P being high in most of the sampled soils could be the application of a large amount of organic manure on agricultural fields. Also, other nutrients, for example nitrogen, are lost in huge amounts through leaching, but not phosphorous. Also, according to Tisdale et al. [20
], very little P is lost by crop removal, and therefore it can be understood that P added as fertilizer can accumulate in the soil for longer times than other nutrients [20
4. Exchangeable Potassium (EK)
According to Silva and Uchida [18
], unlike N and P, K does not form any vital organic compounds in the plant. However, the presence of K is vital for plant growth because K is known to be an enzyme activator that promotes metabolic activities [18
]. It has also been shown to improve disease resistance in plants, improve the size of grains and seeds, and improve the quality of fruits and vegetables.
5. Soil Carbon Stocks
In comparison, agricultural and grass land soils of both the districts were similar to their respective forest soils in terms of the soil C content. The lowest mean C content was found to be in barren land for both the sites. Forests had the highest mean C in Bajhang, and in Mustang agricultural land had the highest mean value of C stored in soils (Table 4
). According to Adams’s [21
] compiled work, forests soil have the capacity to store more than 100 t·ha−1
of C [21
]. In our study, the C stored by forest soils is low in both sites, suggesting that agriculture and grass lands are storing SOC more effectively. The significance values suggest that Bajhang has significantly different C stock values in different land use types at a 1% level of significance where as Mustang has values that are significantly different at the 5% level of significance (Table 4
3.1.4. Change in Food Culture and Habits
The mountain regions of Nepal which include districts such as Bajhang have a high capacity for the production of maize (Zea mays) and other cereal crops. Similarly, this place is highly fertile for ”bethe” (Chenopodium album, Lamb’s Quarter) and “Jau” (Hordeum vulgare, barley) production. However, nowadays, these crops have been replaced by rice (Oryza sativa), wheat (Triticum aestivum) and potato (Solanum tuberosum).
Local persons of the study area explained that three decades ago, they rarely used domestic animals products and dependent on dairy products from these animals and went to the forest and pasture land to collect “bethe” for their meals. They also used to eat puffed maize or finger millet (Eleusine coracana) local-made bread for snacks. They explained that the meal has been replaced by wheat and rice in current decades. The snacks have also been replaced by instant noodles.
This change shows two parallel parts: one due to the change in monitory flow in households and the other due to changing culture with modern habits. Similarly, this replacement by modern food items is also due to ease of use and quick time requirements for their cooking.
One participant of the group discussion said that three to four decades ago, people of these areas rarely used to domestic animals for dairy products and had “Bethe” as well as “Jau” and “Fapar” (Fagopyrum esculentum, buckwheat) to prepare local breads as their major food items. However, nowadays, due to rice and wheat availability and preferences, they neither consume traditional food items nor can they cultivate an adequate amount of rice and wheat from their farm land.