Print Edition - 2014-05-03 | On Saturday
Back to basics
May 2, 2014-
Arjun Neupane, a farmer in Dhaibung, Rasuwa, owns a farm that's all organic. His prize produce is tomatoes, and they grow in a plastic-roofed shed that's surrounded on all sides by marigold plants. The rest of his farmland, used for growing cauliflower and spinach, is spotted with plastic drums that house a slurry of buffalo dung and urine mixed with titepati, neem and sisnu leaves. It's the employing of slurries of this kind that's at the heart of a farming method called Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—a method that's been adopted by a growing number of organic farms in all districts of Nepal.
The IPM philosophy is a simple one: It's a way of using, as much as possible, plants (mostly those that grow in the wild) and animal waste to keep pest numbers down and fertilise the soil at the same time. The buffalo urine in the slurry, which Neupane ferries by the bucketloads to his vegetable beds, acts as a fertiliser—by adding nutrients such as ammonia in its natural form to the soil—and the plants used in the slurry kill germs and keep away animals such as rodents, with their bitterness. Live plants, too–such as the marigold plants around Neupane's greenhouse—can be marshalled as a defensive front: in Neupane's case, they keep at bay the nematodes, a kind of worm, which would otherwise prey on his tomatoes.
IPM took off in the late 90s in Nepal, with the government's encouraging farmers to make use of the method as an alternative to depending on chemical fertlisers, which are harsher on the soil and whose use over time can lead to the land's turning effete. The government knew that it had to wean the farmers off chemical fertilisers if they wanted to preserve the farmlands' soil. The advent of globalisation had by then seen a marked increase in Nepali farmers’ switching to various types of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which had become readily available in all markets across the country. And the farming sector had transformed from one which primarily used organic fertilisers and biological agents to one that relied increasingly on fertilisers that degraded the soil quality of the farms and which furthermore had untold adverse effects on the environment and in turn on public health.
Most farmers who use only chemical fertilisers are locked in a vicious cycle. The chemical fertilisers produce better yields, and as most other farmers now opt for using chemicals (even as they further degrade their land), they have to keep up if they want to compete in the marketplace. Furthermore, many of them have also taken to using industrial-strength pesticides to keep away pests—such as insects, disease-bearing pathogens, weeds, rodents, and mites—which are the major constraints to increasing agricultural production and which can cause productivity losses of up to 40 percent. This increase in the use of chemical pesticides ends up not only upsetting the natural balance of chemicals of the soils in the fields, but also leads to an increase in the populations of secondary pests.
It was to help those farmers who wanted to get back to using biopesticides that the concept of the IPM approach was pushed by the government. The first phase of IPM farming in Nepal was launched just before the turn of the century by the Department of Plant Resources, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The government was aided in its venture by various developmental partners and together they helped set up the practice for farmers in various districts, including Jhapa, Morang, Bara, Chitwan, Kapilvastu, Bardiya, Banke, Kailali, Ilam, Kavre, Syangja, Surkhet, Dadeldhura, Tanahu, Dhading, Mustang and Manang.
Ironically, the governm ent had to sell the idea as a 'modern' method of farming, even though local versions of IPM were what the farmers used to work with before the farmers switched wholesale to chemical fertilisers. Wood ash, for example, has been widely used for pest control in west Nepal for generations. Today, the national IPM Programme seeks to teach the farmers how to find their way back, says Yubak Dhoj GC, a government official and former coordinator at the Plant Protection Directorate. To help farmers make the switch, the government and various non-governmental agencies have set up IPM farmer schools all across Nepal, in which farmers such as Neupane learn the science of using botanical pesticides, which can be made from more than 50 plant species readily available in Nepal: plants such as neem, marigold, titepati, sisnu, garlic and timur are used in IMP to ward off pests such as the cabbage butterfly larvae, hairy caterpillars, cutworms, red ants, termites and aphids.
Today, it is estimated that around 11,000 farmers in 17 districts have completely adopted IPM techniques and that the number is increasing at the rate of more than 10 percent each year. Thus there are quite a few farmers who are getting sold on the idea, but there still remains the challenge of helping the IPM farmers compete with those who still haven't given up the use of chemical fertilisers. The IPM model requires more man-hours in the field; furthermore, as Neupane, says, it's difficult for IPM farmers like him to compete with farmers who use chemical fertilisers, andwhose tomatoes look larger, redder and juicier than his.
According to GC, the IPM programme is at a crossroads now. He says the government has to play a larger role in helping farmers such as Neupane. At present, the agricultural produce grown using chemical fertilisers and the IPM methods are competing in the same markets. The government doesn't have the mechanism in place to certify certain products as being organic. If that were to happen, Neupane thinks that he could sell his tomatoes to hotels in Dhunche, where the tourists who prefer organic produce could seek vegetables like the ones he grows.
In cities like Kathmandu, there are already many farmers who are able to sell their products in the niche markets that the organic farmers, who employ IPM, have carved for themselves. For the farmers outside the Valley, the main draw of IPM farming is that the soil will remain fertile in the long run. These farmer can only compete with those who use chemical fertilisers, says GC, if the government were to provide subsidies and help improve market access for them. “We have been successful in involving the farmers in the IPM approach but have failed to improve the accessibility to the market for their products. Thus it's still difficult for most of them to benefit from the agriculture practice they are adopting," says GC.
Published: 03-05-2014 08:59