Sustainable farming system in SAARC region: Prem Kaidi

Agriculture is the mainstay of the SAARC economy. Intervention in this sector is vital to bring major socio-economic benefits in the region. Chemicals (fertilisers and pesticides) are the main source of plant nutrition and protection in farming in the SAARC countries, whose use has been increasing rapidly. The Indian agro-chemical industry was worth US $4.25 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $7.5 billion in 2018-19.

Chemical use has, however, deteriorated soil fertility, exaggerated the pest problem and increased cost of cultivation while productivity has remained stagnant. Agriculture is thus increasingly becoming unaffordable with rising costs of inputs and diminishing outputs. Besides, the rampant use of chemicals in agriculture has had detrimental effect on the overall eco-system, bio-diversity and human health. Farming with the use of chemical based input has thus become unsustainable in the SAARC region, threatening permanent food/nutrition security as well as income and employment opportunities for millions of people.

The use of chemicals in farming seizes the activities of beneficial microbes, making the plants fully dependent on chemicals for nutrition and protection, resulting in an unsustainable farming system. On the other hand, the use of commercial  bio-agents (in eco-friendly or organic farming) having limited functions has raised the cost of cultivation, resulting in high price of organic products and putting them out of reach of the majority of the people in this region.

Similarly the use of botanical pesticides is not dependable due to a number of factors: Limited types of botanical pesticides are available in concentrate form; knowledge of botanical pesticides has yet to be explored; collection, preparation and use of botanical pesticides in commercial farming are difficult. This indicates that there is an urgent need to develop/disseminate sustainable technology to reduce the cost of organic farming, to bring it at par with chemical- based farming.

Problems of sustainable agriculture are aggravated by climate change, which has resulted in heavy rains causing soil erosion, landslides, floods or little or non-uniform rains, limiting the availability of water for irrigation and drinking purposes.

Mitigation of the adverse effects of global warming, achievement of permanent food security, employment opportunity for millions of youths, conservation of natural resources, dependable eco-system services, eco-friendly sustainable management of  soil, plant nutrition and plant protection are associated issues. So technical interventions addressing all these issues simultaneously can only improve the situation and have sustainable impact. For this, agriculture in the region needs cost-effective organic farming technology.

Through the financial assistance of the SAARC Development Fund Secretariat farmers at the working sites of the Nepalese Farming Institute have adopted cost-effective organic farming through Jeevatu (a consortium of natural beneficial microbes) based technology. All the stakeholders, barring the multinational companies dealing with chemicals, are happy with the impacts of Jeevatu-based technology, which can be verified at 18 different agro-ecological sites in the hills of SAARC countries.  

Nepalese Farming Institute (NFI) has developed Jeevatu and has been disseminating cost-effective organic farming technology in the SAARC region. Successful field level experiments have shown that Jeevatu-based cost-effective organic farming technologies are capable of increasing both productivity and quality of any crop. Besides, adding one per cent organic matter to the soil results in the capture of 88 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

The SAARC Development Fund (SDF) Secretariat, which was established in Thimphu in 2010 for the development of the region, should have been favouring the dissemination of Jeevatu based technology to convert unsustainable chemical based farming system into a cost-effective organic farming system as per the SAARC Agriculture Vision, 2020. But on the contrary, the SDF Secretariat has been hindering the dissemination of Jeevatu-based technology in Afghanistan and India since June 2012.

The chief scientist of Nepalese Farming Institute, K. B. Paudel, during the Sub-Regional Stakeholders Inception Meeting on “Scaling up of Zero Energy Cold Storage Technology for Horticultural Commodities in hills of SAARC countries” in Paro, Bhutan on October 21-22, 2010, had presented the details of the project. He had mentioned that farmers will be trained to prepare and use Jeevatu-based compost (having several times more nutrients and beneficial microbes to control soil inhabiting pest problems) and Jeevatu-based organic liquid manure-1 and Jeevatu-based organic liquid manure-2 to control nutrient deficiencies along with soil borne pest problems and all pest problems above ground level respectively.

Jeevatu is a consortium of naturally available beneficial microbes used to control disease, insect pests and nutritional deficiencies of all crops of all agro-ecological regions. Similarly he described the design and working modality of zero energy cold storage. Further he added that the project intended to successfully complete the training to farmers for eco-friendly production of horticultural commodities having high quality and longer shelf life by the use of Jeevatu and timely completion of construction of ZECS at each sites.”

At the meeting, the SDF had agreed to facilitate the nomination of nodal officers, providing detailed site address, CDEC (Custom Duty Exemption Certificate), road permit, sell tax exemption certificate from the beneficiary member country for the export of project required material, that is, Jeevatu. But Nepalese Farming Institute did not get any help from the SDF in this regard.

As per the minutes of the meeting, Nepalese Farming Institute had confirmed that Jeevatu-based and zero energy cold storage technologies are fully owned by NFI. “NFI thus will indemnify SAARC Development Fund Secretariat and other beneficiary member states from any legal suits relating to the ownership of the technology.”

SDF Secretariat, Ugyen Norbu on October 25, 2010 asked project documents to be circulated among the SDF Board Directors from NFI at the earliest. On October 26, NFI sent documents to SDF where the price of Jeevatu has been clearly mentioned as US$ 3 per liter. In all the documents it has been clearly mentioned that “all the pest problems will be controlled by the use of cost effective, eco-friendly package of natural beneficial microbes called Jeevatu in Nepali.”

The Board of Directors of SDF at its ninth meeting held on November 30-December 1, 2010, Thimphu approved the project proposal of “Scaling up of Zero Energy Cold Storage Technology for Horticultural Commodities in hills of SAARC countries (ZECS)”. And taking into account the unique technical, scientific and innovative nature of the project, the Board approved the project with the following changes.

The Board approved the addition of two cold storage facilities in each participating member country since the two pilot storage facilities submitted in the project proposal may not have significant impact in promoting awareness of the advantages of Zero Energy Cold Storage Technology. Each member country would, therefore, construct four cold storage facilities. The board approved a total project budget of US$ 4.3 million including an additional US$ 1 million to increase the pilot storage facility to four in each participating member country.

The then CEO of SDF Secretariat wanted to start the project as soon as possible, accordingly, NFI executed the project since January 2011.

Pursuant to the Multi-stakeholder’s Dialogue in Dhaka on ‘Management of Soil/ Land- towards Sustainable Agriculture in South Asia’ and Sixth Meeting of the Technical Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (Dhaka, 10-12 October 2010), the Government of Nepal convened a regional workshop with the expert group on "Up-Scaling of Sustainable Eco-friendly farming technology focused on beneficial microbes (Jeevatu) – in SAARC Region " in Nepal to discuss and develop the project further.

The regional workshop was attended by delegates from five SAARC member states (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka). The delegates from the member states made a field trip to Sharda Batase village of Kavre district (30 kilometers from Kathmandu). One hundred twenty four (124) households had adopted Jeevatu-based farming technology for plant protection and plant nutrition in the village alone. In the recent past the village had extensively used chemical fertilisers, pesticides and was facing its negative effects.

The meeting held discussion on the technical, managerial and implementation aspects of the proposed project. The meeting agreed on the viability of the Jeevatu based farming in the member states. Following detailed discussions, Nepal submitted an updated Project to the SAARC Development Fund Secretariat for its final consideration.

Eco-friendly natural resource management and Jeevatu based agriculture system intervention can ensure mitigation of the adverse effect of global warming, sustainable socio-economic and agriculture development in the region. The project focuses on building technical and managerial capacity of the farmers on utilising their own local resources for sustainable socio-economic development. The project also aims to develop competitive capacity of value chain actors of the agriculture sector through the production and trade of pesticide residue free, high quality agro-products, including vegetables and fruits having long shelf life along with appropriate harvesting and post-harvest techniques.

As per aspirations of the 4th, 15th, 16th and 17th SAARC Summits, the 12th SDF Board Meeting approved the project “Up-Scaling of Sustainable Eco-friendly farming technology in SAARC Region ". NFI received another project from the SDF Secretariat.

The direct beneficiaries of the project are 13,600 households of SAARC region. There will be special focus to train women and disadvantageous group involved in the project and ensure sustainable return from natural resource management and agriculture production throughout the year. The total budget of the project is US $ 4,999,972 with expenditure per household of US $367.645.

Although the facility of CDEC (Custom Duty Exemption Certificate) for material (Jeevatu) transport was not provided from SDF Secretariat, however NFI has got full support till 20th June, 2012.  The mid-term evaluation of the project “Scaling up of Zero Energy Cold Storage Technology for Horticultural Commodities in hills of SAARC countries” on May 12-13, 2012, the then CEO said he was very impressed with NFI’s programme with the farmers. Similarly the then director and present CEO of SDF Secretariat Dr. Sunil Motiwal said, “We are highly impressed to see the current activities and proposed strategic plan of Nepalese Farming Institute.”

NFI had reported success stories of Jeevatu-based eco-friendly sustainable production technologies from different eighteen agro-ecological zones of Afghanistan, Bhutan, India and Nepal. NFI had full faith that the SDF would support the dissemination of Jeevatu-based technology for the socio-economic development of the poor people of SAARC region. But on the contrary there was a stop to the dissemination of Jeevatu-based technologies, which helped the multinational companies to promote their chemical pesticides.

NFI had requested the SDF Secretariat for supervision of the working sites, but the SDF Secretariat refused, saying that there was nothing happening in Afghanistan and India.

As per the demand of Jeevatu from working sites of the project and the 13th SDF Board decision, NFI had ordered Nepalese Natural Bio-product (NNB) to supply 79,492 litres of Jeevatu to the project, which were packed and stored in a warehouse of NNB. But recently the SDF Secretariat refused to allow the supply of 40,000 liters of Jeevatu to Afghanistan and India.

NFI has demonstrated technologies to save billions of dollars in managing the soil and plant problems in the hills of SAARC countries, including management of several unattended problems like citrus decline, apple re-plantation problem.

Although NFI faced all these issues and problems, NFI wanted to complete the project “Scaling up of Zero Energy Cold Storage (ZECS) for Horticultural Commodities in hills of SAARC countries” by constructing zero energy cold storages in Afghanistan and India as well as improve the working conditions with SDF Secretariat to raise the socio-economic status of the poor people of the SAARC region.

The construction of one zero energy cold storage in India is going on. Similarly in Afghanistan, the tendering process for the construction of zero energy cold storage is complete. But the SDF Secretariat seems not to be supporting the dissemination of Jeevatu-based cost-effective organic farming technology in the SAARC region, which, in a way,  may help chemical based farming system in the SAARC region to continue.  

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