Jholmal – A chemical-free solution for farmers in Kavre

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Jholmal – an alternative to hazardous chemical pesticide 
Photo: Roshan Subedi/CEAPRED

'People still act surprised when we tell them that bio-pesticides can be used as an alternative to chemical pesticides’, Sumita Basnet recalls, an agriculture technician with the Center for Environment and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED).

Ms Basnet is a team member of the resilient mountain villages (RMV) project, implemented jointly by CEAPRED and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), aimed at building affordable and replicable adaptation practices in mountain villages. As the community liaison for the project in Kalche besi and Patalekhet in Kavre Palanchowk District, she is responsible for group formation, scheduling training sessions, conducting technology demonstrations, and helping farmers adopt the introduced technologies in coordination with the field office in Dhulikhel.

To date, Sumita and her fellow agriculture technicians, have conducted technology demonstrations on climate smart practices for groups of famers across the eight pilot sites, in Kavre. The results from the first season have been encouraging.

'Farmers did treat it like a fairy tale at first, but their perceptions are changing for the better’, Ms Basnet said.

After opting for Jholmal – a homemade bio-pesticide and bio-fertilizer – in lieu of chemical pesticides, farmers observed an increased production. They also found that it had many other benefits. Since then, farmers have readily adopted Jholmal. Now, every household in the Kalche Besi, prepares and uses Jholmal.

Photo: Roshan Subedi/CEAPRED

About twenty months back, farmers in Kalchhe sprayed volumes of chemical pesticides in their crops, in spite of being aware of the associated health concerns.

Today, lead farmers like Bimala Bajgain, explain that they have largely reduced the use of chemical pesticides and adopted Jholmal, instead. “Earlier, we frequented agro-vets to ask for medicine (pesticides) whenever we had pest problems. Now, we spray Jholmal to get rid of pests, because we know that it works well, and we have it in plentiful in our own homes,” she adds.

Nani Maiya Dhungana, another woman farmer, confides that they are slowly changing their farming practices towards non-chemical agriculture. As a new habit, she collects animal urine in a tank daily. She uses this urine to brew her batch of Jholmal, and also feed her bio-gas plant. 

Like other farmers in her group, she fixes her concoction of Jholmal by mixing together a combination of farmyard manure, animal urine, locally sourced plants with insecticidal or insect repellent properties, and natural microbes or Jeevatu  in her own house. She prepares three different types of Jholmal varying in composition and usage, depending on need. 

Jholmal 1: Farmyard manure, animal urine, and water are mixed at a ratio of 1:1:1. The mixture is ready for use in two weeks. The slurry is mixed in 1:3 ratio with water and poured at the base of the plant and acts as both a fertilizer and pesticide to control soil-borne pests.

Jholmal 2: Animal urine and water are mixed at a ratio of 1:1. The mixture is ready for use in two weeks. It is mixed with water at a ratio of 1:3 and sprayed on the leaves and stems of the plant to control various diseases and insect pests.

Jholmal 3: Locally sourced plants with insecticidal or insect repellent properties, are mixed with animal urine and water at a ratio of 1:5:5. The mixture is ready for use in three weeks. The mixture is filtered, mixed with water at a ratio of 1:5 for seedlings and 1:3 for one month old crops, and then sprayed on the leaves and stems of the plant to control various diseases and insect pests.

Farmers can add Jeevatu to accelerate the decomposition process. They can also brew stronger batches of Jholmal, by maintaining temperatures between 15–30°C to further aid fermentation.

Various academic literature do confirm that botanical pesticides are effective in controlling insect pests. Animal urine has antibacterial, antioxidant, anthelminthic, antifungal properties and has a higher amount of nitrogen as compared to animal manure. 

Growing safer food

Growing off-season vegetables is often synonymous with excessive chemical pesticide usage. But farmers here grow seasonal vegetables and also some off-season vegetables primarily relying on Jholmal. 

While entertaining new visitors to her village, Bimala Bajgain, a pioneer Jholmal user, confides, “Earlier, we doused our crops with chemical pesticides to ward off pests. We warned our children to not eat vegetables straight off the plant and were ever worried that they would not listen.”

Unlike most chemical pesticides, Jholmal, a bio-pesticide, is water-soluble and has no hazardous residual effects. Since Jholmal supplies all the essential micro and macro nutrients, plants grow healthier even without the input of chemical fertilizers. 

“Now that we use Jholmal in our vegetables, we are carefree.” chirps in a jubilant Bimala. 

This year, Kamala Timilsina grew her batch of zucchinis in Feb-March, chemical-free. She used a pheromone trap to control fruit flies, and sprayed Jholmal for the other pests. Zucchinis have a high demand in the market and fetch a healthy price in the off-season. 

Mitthu Timalsina, too shares a similar story. This season, she grew her bitter gourds only with Jholmal. She moved back from the city, after hearing about Jholmal replacing chemical pesticides in her native village. Recuperating from an illness, she is very keen on working with bio-pesticides, and feels that it would make her health better. She tends to her vegetable patch, together with her husband, who is equally convinced of the benefits of Jholmal. 

Jholmal shaves farm expenses

“Normally we would spend about NPR. 25,000 to buy chemical fertilizers and pesticides annually. Jholmal saves us about 50% of our farm expenditure. This has helped us to save our money. We can now afford to buy external inputs.” asserts Sarita Regmi.

She adds that by resorting to Jholmal in her vegetable and potato crops, she saved costs off chemical pesticides. With her savings, she improved her cattle shed by building a drainage system to collect animal urine in a storage tank. Traditionally, bedding material in the shed would absorb the urine, or excess urine would simply spill out. Now, she uses the collected urine to prepare Jholmal and also feed her bio-gas plant as well. She used the enriched slurry from the bio-gas plant, as fertilizer in her plants.

Two years into the programme, farmers in the village rarely buy pesticides, and use it as a last resort for severe infestations only. Having undergone multiple training/demonstrations, they are also more aware and conscious about using highly toxic pesticides (labelled red).