For centuries, Indian farmers have mixed livestock dung and biomass compost for use as manure. It’s the same with Nepal’s farmers. Both countries have a large proportion of small farmers, for whom chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not always desirable in the long run, both in terms of cost and maintaining soil health and nutrient balance.
Nepal has turned to Jhol Mol, a traditional bio-fertilizer and biopesticide, which can be beneficial for Indian farmers too.
On the one hand, soil productivity decreases over the time due to persistent use of chemical fertilizers. On the other hand, it leads to environmental and health impacts too. To make things worse, farmers are increasingly facing the vagaries of nature vis-à-vis the changing climate, including erratic rainfall and increasing temperatures. The condition of Nepalese farmers is no different from their Indian counterparts. But many of them have found a savior in Jhol Mol.
“This was already a traditional practice. What we did was basically a blending of the scientific approach and local traditional knowledge and systems,” Keshab Dutt Joshi of the Centre for Environmental and Agriculture Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED) said in Kathmandu last month.
Jhol Mol is a variety of organic fertilizer, which is a combination of Jeevatu, Nepal’s indigenous effective microorganism, mixed and fermented with water, cow or buffalo urine, cow dung and biomass (such as fallen leaves) available on the farmland.
Although it has a pungent odor and taste, “it is helpful in controlling insect pests that attack and damage crops, protects crops against fungal and vector-borne disease and improves plant health,” its promoters say. Farmers from the Dhulikhel area in Nepal corroborated this. The farmers used plastic tanks or even plastic lined covered pits to prepare and store this solution.
This microbe solution has done wonders for smallholders in Nepal. “After successful experiments in three pilot projects, now the idea is being replicated by farmers themselves in 16 districts of Nepal,” Joshi told VillageSquare.in.
Feasible for India
“This — the Jhol Mol solution — is in fact more feasible for Indian conditions. The important thing is that this needs fermentation. It will work for both Indian Himalayan villages and for plains too. With more temperature in Indian villages on plains compared with Nepal hills, this will function even better,” Agrawal, a program coordinator with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, told VillageSquare.in.
And just as this is more effective for small farmers in Nepal, this beneficial microbe solution can be effective for Indian small farmers. Government data shows that India has about 67% farmers categorized as marginal (those with less than 1 hectare of land); about 18% as smallholding farmers (1-2 ha) and just about 10% that fall in semi-medium (2-4ha) landholding.
Statistics from Government of India’s Department of Fertilizers shows that there are 160 fertilizer companies across India, including public sector, cooperative and private, and the total sale of fertilizers in 2016-17 was 54.2 million tons. The government said in a reply to a question in Lok Sabha on January 2 this year that the all-India consumption of urea for the year 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 was around 30 million tons every year.
Further, stating that the import of urea is based on demand-supply gap dynamics, the government said it has allocated Rs 14,000 crore for Imported Urea in the Budgetary Estimates (BE) 2017-18.
The Crop and Weather Watch Group under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare’s Crop Forecast Coordination Centre holds regular meetings — such as this latest meeting on January 5, 2018 — where the Central Integrated Pest Management Centres (CIPMCs) report about pests and diseases.
But, it should be evaluated if the usage of chemical fertilizers, including urea, is really worth it in view of both the cost and health risks involved. Remember, the government’s fertilizer subsidy for 2017-18 stands at Rs 70,000 crore, according to the annual budget. Chemical fertilizer cannot be a long-term solution even for soil health. More and more farmers could be doing better without chemical fertilizers, turning entirely to organic farming.
In cases such as Jhol Mol, this “replication” of a simple, affordable solution can be done across India, not just Himalayas.
Organic farming has taken a positive turn in India with more and more demand from conscious citizens. Ardent promoters of organic farming have always maintained that it can meet demands for the growing food needs of Indians and also be environmentally friendly. Jhol Mol proves it can be not just cost-effective but good for farmers’ health and that of the soil as well.
Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi.