Manila, Philippines (BBN)- The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will help some of Nepal’s poorest farmers shift production from traditional low-earning crops into high-value commodities, resulting in improved quality of life and incomes for nearly 19,000 households.

ADB’s Board of Directors approved a grant of $20.1 million for the Raising Incomes of Small and Medium Farmers Project, which will support nearly 900 farmer groups in 10 districts in underdeveloped western Nepal, an ADB announcement said on Thursday.

Agriculture’s contribution to Nepal’s economy has dropped in recent years but nearly three-quarters of the rural population are still reliant on the sector for a living. Small farmers struggle to make ends meet with incomes limited by low returns from traditional crops such as rice and wheat, small land plots, low levels of technology, a lack of access to credit, and weak supply chains.

Men often migrate from the countryside in search of better paid work, leaving women to run farms, and surveys of small farmers show that more than 65 percent of households are living below the poverty line.

The project will help farmers move into higher income earning crops and build up supply chain links to buyers and markets.

It will also include a grant facility so farmers can invest in new postharvest facilities such as processing, storage and packaging. It will also provide farmers with agribusiness training and assistance for business plans to allow them to produce and add-value to new commodities.

The grant from ADB’s concessional Asian Development Fund will cover 60 percent of the total investment cost of almost $34 million. Beneficiary groups will extend $7.6 million equivalent, with the Nepal government providing $5.3 million and the Netherlands Development Organization, SNV, supplying $490,000 to cover the project’s agribusiness and value-chain backstopping package.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives will be the executing agency for the project, which is due for completion in June 2018.

BBN/SI/AD-25Nov10-4:00 pm (BST)