Tired of waiting, farmers start planting paddy without chemical fertilisersFarmers across the country are desperate for chemical fertilisers to arrive as early onset of monsoon brings abundant rain to prepare the fields for paddy transplantation.
Sunil Ali, a farmer from Khajani, Rupandehi, has started paddy transplantation a few weeks before the normal planting season—because there was abundant water.
This year, the monsoon arrived eight days earlier, on June 5, than normal, bringing cheers to farmers.
Nepal’s economic wellbeing is intimately linked with the monsoon. Rainwater is the lifeblood of Nepal's Rs4.85 trillion economy which is farm-dependent, as nearly two thirds of the farmlands have no better source of irrigation.
But Ali has no chemical fertiliser, a vital farm input.
Fertiliser contains nutrients that plants need, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, to boost their growth.
“I need 12 sacks [1 sack is 50 kg] of chemical fertiliser for my 5 bigha [3.35 hectares] of farmland,” Ali said.
The state-subsidised fertiliser was not available.
“I could not bring them from India,” he said. “So I transplanted paddy without applying them.”
Usually, when a fertiliser crisis grips Nepal, farmers in the country’s southern belt hop across the border to smuggle in the plant nutrients.
This year, borders are regulated and police have punished many farmers for smuggling in fertiliser. “I knew that my neighbours were fined and the fertiliser they brought from India was seized,” he said. “So I gave up the idea.”
On Saturday, frantic farmers of Dharke in Dhading looted two trucks loaded with chemical fertiliser as they were being escorted to Kathmandu.
Video clips circulating on social media showed farmers grabbing sacks of fertilisers and running away. The incident shows the urgency of the farm inputs in the key crop transplanting season and desperation of farmers.
Security personnel failed to control the frenzied crowd of farmers. Around 400 of the 500 sacks the two trucks were ferrying vanished in less than half-an-hour.
The Dharke incident is an example of how desperate farmers across the country are for fertilisers.
Dhiraj Yadav of Khajani, Rupandehi has 7 bigha [4.69 hectares] of farmland.
He is in immediate need of 20 sacks of fertiliser but has not gotten even a grain yet.
Yadav was informed by cooperatives, which distribute the state-subsidised chemical fertiliser, that it would arrive in a week. He went to ask if it had arrived.
“The answer was obvious," he said. “Next week.”
Yadav is not convinced though. But he can barely do anything.
“There is no certainty when the fertiliser will come. We can't miss the good time to transplant the paddy. I did it without chemical fertiliser,” he said.
Yadav is encouraged by the abundant rainfall but worried about poor harvest.
Over the coming months, a major challenge for farmers will be accessing fertiliser, which may impact food production across many crops in different regions, according to the World Bank’s May report on food security.
Agro experts say urea needs to be applied during the transplantation and then first top dressing—two to three weeks after transplantation.
Paddy saplings have grown green in the nursery of Ashok Kurmi in Palhinandan of West Nawalparasi.
Despite not having an irrigation system, he is not much concerned, as he can use water pumps to irrigate his farm. His main worry is fertiliser.
The Agricultural Inputs Company, the government’s supply body, does not have enough fertiliser, he said.
“If I fail to transplant the seedlings within the next few days, they will turn yellow,” Kurmi told the Post.
Many farmers in India are paying huge amounts, four to five times the normal rates, according to farmers. But it’s not easy to bring them to Nepal.
Some farmers have applied the di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) by purchasing it from India at Rs2,500 per sack.
Ramakanta Kafle of Sunwal 7 said that local representatives have been passing the buck to the federal government.
"The local representatives had committed in their election manifestos to prioritising agriculture. They had made promises that there won’t be a shortage of fertiliser,” he said. “Now it has become clear that they all lied.”
Kafle says local representatives cannot shirk their responsibilities.
“We voted them to serve us. Now they are blaming the federal government,” Kafle said. “They need to distribute the fertiliser even by bringing it from India. We need it now.”
Local representatives say they cannot manage the fertiliser immediately as it is the federal government’s responsibility to procure and distribute them.
“We are not authorised to buy chemical fertilisers,” said Shambhu Lal Shrestha, mayor of Bardaghat Municipality in Nawalparasi. “We had demanded fertilisers from the federal government but it looks like it is not immediately available. We understand preparations to acquire fertiliser for summer crops needs to be done as early as the winter.”
The warehouse of Bhairahawa branch of the Agricultural Inputs Company, which is responsible for distributing fertilisers in three provinces in western Nepal, is currently empty.
The company distributes fertilisers in Lumbini, Karnali, and Sudhurpaschim provinces as well as in Syangja and Nawalpur of the Gandaki Province.
There is an acute shortage of farm nutrients in Lumbini, Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces at the peak paddy transplantation time.
The Bhairahawa-based regional office of the Agriculture Inputs Company has received only 24,007 tonnes of urea and 16,074 tonnes of DAP since mid-July last year.
Urea has yet to arrive since they ran out of it in mid-January, according to company officials.
At present, the company has about 1,338 tonnes of DAP in stock. The rest has been distributed.
“We have few quantities of potash and DAP in stock. This stock has been allotted for the crop pocket areas of the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project," said Narayan Prasad Sharma, chief of the Agricultural Input Company regional office in Bhairahawa. “We are not sure when the fertiliser will come.”
Various humanitarian agencies have warned that higher fertiliser prices and a global shortage of supply due to the Russia-Ukraine war may impact food prices and production for low income countries like Nepal.
Nepal’s bid to procure fertiliser from India under a government-to-government agreement has yet to yield results. Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Mahendra Raya Yadav was in New Delhi to follow up on fertiliser procurement from India.
India itself is one of the worst affected by the worldwide fertiliser crisis. India imports up to a third of its fertiliser and is the world’s biggest buyer of urea and di-ammonium phosphate.
To fast-track the supply, Nepal also cleared legal hurdles. But farmers are still waiting to get the farm nutrients.
Last week, the Parliament told the government to ensure chemical fertiliser by any means necessary even as countries around the globe are scrambling to avert a seemingly inevitable drop in crop yields due to a worldwide shortage of nutrients.
“This is not the first time that there has been a shortage of fertiliser during the transplantion season,” said Ali, the farmer from Khajani. “This is a recurring problem every year. It’s us farmers who have been bearing the brunt of the state’s failure.”