Farmers adopting Technology

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This article about Climate Smart Villages was first written by Madhusudhan Guragain in Nepali. It appeared in Nagarik Daily on 25 July 2015. The Nepali version of this article is available here. www.nagariknews.com/economy/agriculture/story/42246.html

There was a time when famers had to go to the agriculture office or listen to specific programmes – like JTA Ra Budhi Amai – aired on Radio Nepal for information related to agriculture. With recent technological advances, over 500 farmers in Kavrepalanchowk District are now able to receive information related to agriculture on their mobile phones. 

Vital information on farming technologies, animal husbandry, disease and insect varieties, weather, and market rates and services is being made available through mobile phones. 

"Daily updates on weather information, disease and insect varieties, and market rates have made farmers’ lives easier”, said Keshav Sapkota, a farmer from Nayagaun-5. “Weather information is also helpful for household chores. Women plan their laundry when the weather updates predict no rainfall”, Sapkota added

Over 500 farmers in Nayagaun, Deupur, and Mahadevsthan VDCs in Kavre receive updates from 3234, a free SMS number. The Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), which has been working in the agricultural sector for the past 25 years, has made these farmers rich in information.

In collaboration with ICIMOD, CEAPRED has launched the 'Climate Smart Village' (CSV) programme in three [sic] village development committees. Through this programme, in addition to daily updates on their phones, farmers also receive training on the management of water, crops, soil, and micro-nutrients. 

"The CSV concept has been formulated to support hand-in-hand research with famers on how climate change is affecting agriculture, and how to adapt farming practices to these changes”, Ramdev Shah, CEAPRED’s senior agricultural expert said.

The programme encompasses two different types of terrain – hills and valleys – across the three VDCs. The programme has also set up weather stations in the different terrains to collect local weather information. 

"Farmers have been using traditional farming techniques. Their inability to adapt farming practices to changing weather patterns has led to increased incidence of insect and disease outbreaks and even changes to the harvesting months”, Shah said, recalling the hardships faced while launching the programme earlier in the year.

A local farmer from Mahadevsthan-7, Shambu Parajuli agrees with Shah. "Delay in rainfall has delayed planting. The time for bringing paddy home has also become delayed”, Parajuli said. “We were under the impression that rice plantation would be impossible without enough water. But after adopting SRI technology, we realised that we were mistaken”.

Compared to other crops, rice production requires more water. Scientists have developed a rice farming technique that requires less water. The government is promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method of rice cultivation in the eastern Terai in Nepal, but Kavre has not received any encouragement for the same. CEAPRED has introduced SRI in Mahadevsthan and Nayagaun through the Climate Smart Village programme.

"The SRI method of paddy cultivation can be carried out even when there is little water. A smaller amount of rice seedlings is required compared to traditional rice farming. Seedlings raised in a seed bed the size of a regular sized table are enough to plant rice on ten ropanis of land”, Shah said. “We have found up to 130 rice shoots in one cluster of seedlings. The rice plants also ripen ten to 15 days earlier.

“A study by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Cornell University, USA, has indicated that SRI technology in over 50 countries has led to a 20 to 100 per cent increase in production, up to 90 per cent decrease in seed requirements, and up to 50 per cent decrease in water requirements.

“We are implementing the SRI technique in Nayagaun and Mahadevsthan VDCs, where there is not enough water for traditional rice plantation. In addition, we are using Leaf Colour Charts to minimise the unnecessary use of nitrogen fertilisers”, Shah said.

The farmers, who previously relied on chemical pesticides to control diseases and pests are now using home-brewed alternatives for tomato cultivation.

“We are beginning to make Jholmol, a bio-pesticide. It has helped control infestations in tomato and chilli plants. Buying pesticides from the market is no longer a necessity”, said Revati Prasad Sapkota from Timalsina Gaun.

Inspired by this technology, Shambhu Gharti has started cultivating tomatoes in Nayagaun-5. After experiencing problems in Malaysia as a migrant worker, he returned to his village. 

"I would have not have needed to migrate to Malaysia if I had received these trainings earlier. Even though it’s rather late, I am happy to have returned home to enjoy farming”, said Shambhu.

The recent devastating earthquake affected Nayagaun VDC the most. Most of the cowsheds collapsed and the Jholmol drums were buried. The remaining unaffected households have started loaning Jholmol to other farmers.

“Pest infestations in our neighbour’s tomatoes will eventually affect ours as well. Therefore, we have started lending them Jholmol by the bucket”, he said. Farmers have started using Jholmol in their vegetable patches and rice fields. Once they started using Jholmol, they stopped using chemical fertilisers.

“The chemical fertiliser made the soil acidic. After using Jholmol, the soil quality has improved and there has been a significant improvement in production as well”, said Shah.

In commercial coffee plantations that are fast picking up in Nayagaun, farmers are introducing intercropping using a new variety of green peas – the Sikkim Local – for the first time. 

“The root nodules in the peas help provide nitrogen. Compared to the previous year, the coffee shrubs are taller and the leaves are a darker green”, said Keshav Prasad Sapkota. 

Sapkota added that the compost used in coffee and other crops has been further enriched. 

“After adding the bio-digester (Trichoderma) provided by CEAPRED, the compost fertilizers have become more effective. Earlier people were unconvinced, but today all the farmers are making compost”, he added.

According to Shah, rice, maize, wheat, and tomato varieties are constantly being tested against rising temperatures that have resulted from climate change.

“This year, we have tested varieties of wheat and even tomatoes. We are now testing rice and maize varieties. By testing these varieties on geographical and weather conditions specific to Mahadevsthan, Nayagaun and Patlekhet for three consecutive years, we hope to improve farmers’ ability to adapt to climate change”, said Shah.

Government sector also promoting technology

Even the government has launched a programme to support farmers in Kavre to adapt to the risks in the agriculture sector due to climate change. A programme is already underway in Bhakunde Besi in Kavrepalanchowk District.

“We are taking the programme to an additional 30 agricultural groups in different geographical conditions”, said Tharka Bahadur GC, Crop Development Officer with the District Agriculture Development Office.

The Ministry of Agriculture has also launched an Agriculture Management information System (AMIS) and mobile app under this programme. To make information more accessible, the programme plans to distribute phones with preinstalled apps to select VDC and farmer groups/communities. “We will provide information on agriculture, agricultural tools and technologies, and weather through mobiles”, said GC.

He mentioned that the Nepal Agricultural Research Council and scientists and agricultural experts working in the agriculture sector will be providing the services so that the farmers can get more information. The AMIS is being rolled out in 25 districts including Kavre. The pilot programme is being launched in Dhankuta, Sunsari, Siraha, Bara, Kavre, Rupandehi, Banke, and Jumla.