Karnali farmers say they can’t do without chemicals

For the last six years, there has been a government ban on the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the mountain districts of Karnali, but the government has not provided alternatives to the farmers, which has hurt output.

Krishna Prasad Gautam

Krishna Prasad Gautam

The Kathmandu Post


Ministry experts say that around Rs250 million worth of pesticides are imported into Karnali each year. PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/ THE KATHMANDU POST

October 2, 2023

KATHMANDU – Padam Bahadur Khatri of Musikot Municipality-3 in Rukum West has been growing vegetables commercially for the last 17 years. He owns a 15-ropani farm, and also plants grain crops on 7 ropanis.

Khatri complains that he needs to apply chemical fertilisers and pesticides every time he sows a new crop.

“If I don’t use chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the productivity of my paddy and wheat crops drops sharply. I have no option.”

Khatri normally keeps four bags of chemical fertilisers and pesticides such as Sulphur, Alphamethrin and Thiram in his house in case there is a pest attack on his farm.

Another farmer Juddha Bahadur Khatri has also been engaged in commercial vegetable farming. He has a 7-ropani farm.

Khatri encountered a new variety of pests among his vegetables last year. The tomato, chilly, pea and other vegetable plants on his farm started drying up due to the infestation.

“I brought many agro experts to look at them but none of them could identify the pests. I even applied eight to nine different pesticides recommended by them, but to no avail,” said Khatri.

Khatri then phoned his son who lives in India and explained the problem to him. His son sent him Rocket and Miraculan, two new pesticides from India, which finally got rid of the pests.

“The pests seem to have become immune to the pesticides being used in Nepal. They have become ineffective against the pests,” said Khatri.

Khatri’s son Manoj works as an agriculture technician in Shimla, India. These days, he always consults his son.

Following the formation of the Karnali provincial government on February 18, 2018, its first cabinet meeting had decided to make Karnali an organic province.

On December 25, 2019, a meeting of the Karnali Province Coordination Council also decided to make the province fully organic within the next two years.

The Provincial Assembly even passed a bill in 2019 to implement the decision. But the scheme has spread confusion due to insufficient preparation, lack of employees and low budget.

For the last six years, there has been a government ban on the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the mountain districts of Karnali, but the government has not provided alternatives to the farmers.

“We are permitting the use of chemical fertilisers in paddy farming in the hilly districts,” said Dhan Bahadur Kathayat, spokesperson for the Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperative in Karnali.

“But we will impose a gradual ban on their use in the future.”

Kathayat claimed that the provincial government had provided subsidies and conducted supportive programmes for the production of organic fertilisers.

According to the Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperative in Karnali, around 4,000 tonnes of chemical fertilisers are used in the hilly districts of the province every year.

Ministry experts say that around Rs250 million worth of pesticides are imported into Karnali each year. But pesticide sellers say that their use has grown in recent years.

Himal Oli, proprietor of Panchakoshi Agrovet and Trading Centre in Surkhet, claims that he has been selling pesticides worth Rs50 million every year.

“There is no alternative to pesticides in commercial farming. Each farm needs to spray pesticides every 15 days due to an outbreak of a new pest as there is no other way to control them,” said Oli.

“Therefore, I supply pesticides to the farmers in almost all districts of Karnali as per their need.”

Agriculture expert Deepak Sharma said that pesticides such as Abamectin, Alphamethrin and Carbosulfan; herbicides such as Atrazine, Butachlor and Glyphosate; and fungicides such as Sulphur, Thiophanate-methyl, Thiram and Zineb are widely used in Karnali.

Besides, a large quantity of Indian vegetables, fruits and crops are also imported into Karnali which have an unchecked amount of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Dal Bahadur Khadka, an organic agriculture activist, said that locals of Karni are compelled to rely on foods contaminated with chemicals in the absence of a government mechanism to check the quantity of chemicals in them.

“The government’s schemes have become just like an advertisement without much impact. Neither can it check the chemicals in imported agricultural products nor can it ensure that all vegetables and grains grown in the province are organic,” said Khadka.

Prof Dr Dambar Khadka, director of the Karnali Province Hospital, said that the consumption of fruits and vegetables grown using chemicals has immediate effects such as diarrhoea, shivering and fainting.

“In the long term, it might cause blindness, cancer, tumour, infertility and so on,” said Khadka.

There is a unified agriculture laboratory in Birendranagar in Surkhet, but it is non-operational for lack of adequate manpower and machinery.

The provincial government allocated Rs10 million each to establish laboratories in Salyan and Surkhet in the fiscal year 2019-20. But the construction work at both of them is moving very slowly.

“The ‘Organic Karnali’ campaign has not been able to perform well due to the scarcity of adequate machines,” said Kathayat.

The government also allocated Rs50 million each in the fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21 for the establishment of an organic fertiliser factory. But funding stopped in the subsequent years, and the project failed to gain momentum.

“We had aimed to establish the factory as a 50-percent partnership with the private sector. But we had to abandon the project as we could not find any interested investors,” said Kathayat.

Local activist Durga Prasad Sapkota said that food items containing lethal doses of chemicals are entering the household due to the incompetence of the government.

“On the one hand, Karnali is not self-reliant in agriculture production. On top of that, the organic scheme of the government launched without adequate preparation has slashed the existing yield,” said Sapkota.

“This will only increase the food dependency of Karnali on others.”

Aakash Tara Bayak, president of the Nepal Consumers Forum Karnali Chapter, has suggested to the government to set up quarantine centres at all the major entry points in the province to check the flow of contaminated food items.

Karnali is dependent on external sources for not only food grains but also green vegetables. Therefore, the implementation of the “Organic Karnali” plan is a challenge, say experts.

Yogendra Shahi, vice-president of the Karnali Province Planning Commission, said that Karnali has fertile land for organic agriculture, so the commission is in the process of making plans and policies to sell locally produced organic food items in the international market.

“There has been a proposal to set up a large-scale organic fertiliser factory in the province, but it is not possible,” said Shahi.

Nar Hari Prasad Ghimire, secretary of the Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperatives, said that the government had prioritised the conservation and development of indigenous crop varieties in the first stage for the implementation of the “Organic Karnali” plan.

“We have introduced subsidies to make Karnali self-reliant through the cultivation of indigenous varieties. We have also implemented an indigenous crop conservation programme in each district,” said Ghimire.

Organic farming is not a new concept in Karnali. In 2009, the then District Development Committee of Jumla declared the district an organic district. Since then, farmers in Jumla have stopped using chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

According to a study done by the Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC) in Karnali in 2021, around 100 to 200 tonnes of pesticides are used each year in the province.

“Recent government records are not available, but the use of pesticides in the province is approximately in the same range,” said agriculture expert Sharma.

“During the study, it was found that farmers had used 24 kinds of pesticides prohibited by the government in a desperate step to control pest outbreaks promptly.”

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