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The win-win of phasing out farming chemicals in Surkhet 

Farmer Laxmi Thapa worried that ditching chemical fertilisers and pesticides would hit her bottom-line. With the help of GRAPE, her input costs have dropped, while her yield, and health, have leapt.
Published: 16 Apr, 2024
⏲ 5 minutes Read

Laxmi Thapa, a 42-year-old resident of Raharpur, Birendranagar Municipality, Ward No. 9, has long grappled with a challenging dilemma. Her concerns revolve around the trade-off between achieving optimal crop yields using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the potential negative health implications associated with these practices. In this close-knit community where Laxmi resides with her husband and two children, their livelihood is intricately tied to the one Bigha of cultivable land they own. 

Facing a significant hurdle in the form of low soil fertility, recurring infestations of insect pests, and the persistent threat of crop diseases, Laxmi felt compelled to resort to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on her land. These solutions, while offering a glimmer of hope for improved yields, came at a cost – a cost not solely measured in financial terms but also in terms of health risks. Laxmi's dedication and hard work were evident as she tirelessly worked her land, applying chemical remedies in the hopes of countering the challenges she faced. Despite her relentless efforts and the application of these chemical interventions, the desired yields remained elusive, casting a shadow of disappointment over her efforts. 

Climate change, sustainable solutions, and positive transformation 

In Surkhet, west Nepal, the impact of climate change has brought about significant shifts in the predictable patterns of water availability. These shifts have led to a cascade of challenges, including drought conditions that manifest during the dry season, unpredictable rainfall, and the emergence of more frequent and intense flooding episodes during the monsoon. These alterations in the climatic rhythm disrupt the traditional agricultural calendar and profoundly affect the ability of farmers to plan their cultivation cycles. 

As a member of the Bamekhola Farmer’s Group Laxmi has had the opportunity to learn technologies to help her withstand such challenges, without resorting to chemicals: including the preparation of biological fertilizers, biological insecticides and biological pesticides made with local materials. After undergoing training on jholmal (homemade bio-fertilizer and bio-pesticide) preparation and the application of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, Laxmi shifted to biological farming. Initially, during the first crop, she experienced lower yields without the use of chemical fertilizers. However, over time, her production increased while her investment remained low due to the elimination of chemical inputs. While precise yield data is not available, she did observe a noteworthy reduction in production costs. 

Previously, she used to invest around NRs. 6500-7000 in chemical fertilisers and pesticides for a single crop cycle. However, the use of chemicals had detrimental effects on her health, leading to itching, allergies, and lethargy. The transition to bio-pesticides and bio-fertilisers brought about substantial changes. She invested NRs. 1500 to acquire three plastic drums, which have a long lifespan. She used locally available resources such as botanicals, cow-dung, and urine, and took 4-5 hours to set up the drums, significantly less than she used to spend traveling to purchase chemicals in Birendranagar, Surkhet. 

Laxmi states that, “Implementing jholmal, yellow sticky traps, and lures for vegetable production effectively curbed pests, reduced production costs, attracted buyers to her field, and simplified marketing." 

In the current season, she cultivated cucumbers with guidance from Agriculture Technicians of CEAPRED/GRAPE on a one-ropani plot (roughly 508 sq. m). Bhaktapur local cucumber was planted in the first week of May 2023, integrating jholmal and IPM techniques throughout its growth stages. With 5 harvests so far, she's earned approximately NRs. 58,390. Her estimated earnings for the last few months of 2023 exceeded 1 lakh, thanks to reduced input costs. This shift has not only saved time and costs on chemical purchases but has also contributed to improved human and soil health. 

These changes have eased Laxmi's path toward providing quality education for her children but have also sparked hope for increased production and productivity in the coming years. Positive outcomes include enhanced soil fertility, decreased crop pests and diseases, Laxmi's heightened proficiency and confidence in climate-resilient technologies, and a notable reduction in input costs. 

The importance of climate resilient agricultural practices 

A pressing requirement exists for educating and training rural farmers to encourage the adoption of bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides (jholmal), and Climate-Resilient Agriculture (CRA) technologies. Laxmi, alongside her group, is enthusiastic about imparting their acquired knowledge and skills to fellow farmers. This collaborative effort has led to a growing trend among Raharpur's farmers to employ jholmal and CRA techniques, effectively managing diseases and pests while simultaneously enhancing soil fertility. 

In the context of climate-resilient agricultural practices, it's important to highlight alternative methods that focus on reducing or eliminating the use of harmful chemicals. These practices not only promote the health and well-being of farmers but also contribute to environmental sustainability and the long-term resilience of agricultural systems. Organic farming, integrated pest management, crop rotation, and agroecological approaches are examples of methods that can help minimize chemical use while maintaining agricultural productivity. 

Laxmi thapas vegetable farm using climate resilient agriculture parctice
Laxmi thapa’s vegetable farm using climate resilient agriculture parctice

Laxmi Thapa was supported by Green Resilient Agricultural Productive Ecosystem (GRAPE) project through the implementing partners International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED)  


Project Coordinator, CEAPRED

Research Associate, ICIMOD


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