Agnisair Krishna Sarwan Rural Municipality Ward 6, Saptari, 56400, Nepal +977 985-1181089

Saptari Farmers report 2019

What are the farmers’ agricultural practices and their attitudes towards organic farming

By Open Team

In parallel, with the consumer survey, we conducted a series of interviews with local farmers. The purpose of these interviews is to provide qualitative information to build and adapt the training by analysing their current agricultural practices and establish clear arguments on the environmental, economic and health benefits of organic farming.

These results cannot describe the general situation of Nepalese farmers since, the panel was not set up in such a way as to be representative. The interviews were conducted with 40 farmers in Aginsaer Krishna Sawaran Rural Municipality, of whom 9 are women. All castes were represented with a large proportion of Tharu caste who are the majority of local residents involved in agriculture as other castes are mostly involved in non-agricultural activities.

1. Farms characteristics

Small land holdings and mixed-farming models

Most of the farmers interviewed started working in agriculture for more than 20 years ago by taking over the agricultural activity of their ancestors. These are mainly small family farms as Nepalse farmers’ lands gets decreased from one generation to another due to land division in heritage process. Fathers divide their property equally to their sons according to Nepalese culture. For example : if a grandfather has 20,000 square metre of land and he has four sons then each son will get 5,000 square metre of land. In this way, division of land continues – therefore today most of the Nepalese farmers have smaller pieces of agricultural land. 78% of Nepalese have less than 0.8 hectares of agricultural land and therefore agricultural activities are carried by smallholding farmers. According to Nepalese people’s perception, agriculture is the occupation of poor and of those who cannot invest in the other sectors.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Nepal, 90% of Nepalese Farmer are practicing mixed farming i.e farmer are doing agriculture and horticulture at the same time. In Nepal, as there are different types of regions, the Terai, Hilly and Himalayan, the agro-ecosystems differ and further define agricultural possibilities locally. As, Nepal consists of 3 different types of regions i.e Himalayan (mountain region), hilly region and plains of Terai. The most common livestock species in mixed farming systems are cattle including buffaloes, sheep, goat and poultry. In Nepal, mixed farming is increasing every year in the present context as farmers are being provided strong incentives to keep livestock; not just to fulfill the traditional role of providing draught power, milk, meat, manure for households, but also to generate cash income through the sales  of meat and milk.

Figure 1. Distribution of land holding by size (in square meters)

Source : OpenTeam – March 2019: Note that the figure may not represent the true division of the country or the region. The sample size interviewed is too small to show reliable statistical data with acceptable margins of error.

All the farmers interviewed have livestock and crops. Most of them have goat and ox and mostly grow paddy, potato, wheat and onion.

2. Farming practices

At present situation, 66% of the population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood and it contributes 39% in the GDP with 13% of the total foreign trade of the country : according to the Department of Agriculture. Geographical conditions such as fertile land, and favorable climate have boosted the popularity of agricultural production in the Terai region compared to the hills and the Himalayan region. Till today, majority of the farmers still practice traditional ways of farming. So, farming is seasonal and weather dependent in Nepal.

Even if the size of the farm is relatively sparse, without sufficient manpower, the agriculture activities take time. Half of the surveyed farmers spend more than 5 hours a day in their farming activities (i.e taking care of crops, by saving eaten and destroyed by other neighbour farmers livestock, wild animals, ploughing agricultural lands, planting and harvesting of cereal crops, irrigating land with handpumps, electric water pumps, etc. During the whole year, the most time-consuming works are seeding (during the monsoon season : Mid June-Mid Aug), harvesting (during the autumn season : Mid Sept – Nov), and of course feeding cattle (during the whole year). Indeed, the lack of manpower is cited by 40% interviewed as a main problem at their farms.

Figure 2. How much time do you spend on agricultural work per day yourself ?

Figure 2. How much time do you spend on agricultural work per day yourself ?

Source : OpenTeam – March 2019

For the soil preparation, chemical fertilizers, tillage, fallow land, natural fertilizers and to a lesser extent ploughing are used contrary to the much that is used only for 1 farmer out of 40 interviewees (Figure 4). For the water use, irrigation pump is mostly used in addition to other systems (well, system to get rain water).

2.1 Equipment used for soil preparation and water use

Till now, majority of the farmers still practice traditional ways of farming in Nepal. So farming remains seasonal and weather dependent. About 25% of land is uncultivated due to lack of modern farming techniques, such as chemical pest control, intensive tillage – monoculture, use of biodynamic organic manure, sufficient irrigation facility, etc. In Nepal, the basic farming is a cycle of paddy (rice) and wheat production which is often affected by various natural and manual causes like drought, excess rain, lack of seeds and labor. The scenario is even worse in the hills and the Himalayan region where bad terrain and steep land is a hindrance for better productivity. Long tradition of Nepalese farming involves the use of non-hybridized or -modifiedlocal seeds, and manure. Nonetheless in the last few decades, the government has introduced hybrid seeds, fertilizers and pesticides for better productivity. The fertilizers and pesticides in Nepal are highly hazardous, and the adverse effects on human health are only multiplied since farmers are not using any protective gear to handle these chemicals. The chemicals have also already adversely degraded the fertility of soil. Due to lack of modern ways of farming, agriculture remains as the occupation poor and uneducated. Another fact that was never taken as an entrepreneurship.

Majority of the farmers are unaware of pesticide types, level of poisoning, safety precautions and potential hazards on health and environment. According to the latest estimates of Agriculture Department, Nepal, the annual import of pesticides in Nepal is about 211t i.e. with 29.19% insecticides, 61.38% fungicides, 7.43% herbicides and 2% others. The gross sale value accounts US $ 3.05 million per year. In case of Agnisair Krishna Sawaran Rural Municipality farmers, nearly all of the farmers interviewed have been using chemical fertilizers in their agricultural lands i.e 39 out of 40 of them are using Chemical fertilizers. The farmers state the reason for use of these substances as “for more production”, and as of no other option except it although knowing that the chemical fertilizers are affecting their agricultural lands.

2.2 Land Preparation through ploughing :

Land preparation is an integral and, as yet, indispensable component of the farming practices in Nepal. Most farmers continue to follow age-old traditional soil tillage practices using locally fabricated wooden ploughs and hand implements and ox-power. These are still practised mostly in Hilly areas of Nepal and few farmers in Terai where many are shifting to using tractors for tillage. Due to the largely marginal, fragile, inaccessible and diverse nature of the Himalayas, draught animal power and manual farming are the most appropriate and economical options available to farmers in this mountain region. In the case of terai – the farmers having less agricultural lands and low economic status, farmers having more family members, etc respectively.

The plough is drawn by two oxen and guided from the rear by the farmer who controls the depth and direction using an extended handle connected to the top of the plough. This method is commonly used across the country, to cultivate both lowland (khet) and upland (bari) areas. It can be used under both the semi-dry conditions of upland terraces and the flooded, puddled conditions of lowland terraces. For most mid-hills farmers, this method is the most affordable, efficient and practical means of cultivating their fields. The ox-drawn wooden plough is used on uplands with slopes as steep as 50 to 60%, and on terraces that are as narrow as 1.5 to 2 m width (the minimum width required to turn the oxen around. Tillage is done to between 10 and 15 cm depth with this implement.

2.3 Manual Cultivation with Hand Hoe :

On terraces that are narrower than about 1.5 m, or for those farmers who possess only small parcels of land (less than 0.1 ha) and do not own oxen, cultivation is mostly done by hand-hoe. These come in a number of different blade widths/sizes and handle lengths for use by men and women alike, and for various functions. This manual tillage technique is typically done to depths of less than 10 cm and generally does not involve complete over-turning of the soil. The hand hoe is also used for secondary tillage purposes, clod-breaking and smoothing after ox-ploughing, and post-emergence weeding.

2.4 Tillage through the modern equipments

In Nepal, most of the farmers have started using the modern equipments of tillage for saving their time and to decrease manpower cost too. Nowadays, it is very difficult to find manpower for agriculture so farmers have started to use tractors, hand tractors for tillage.

Incase of Agnisaer Krishna Sawaran Rural Municipality, the farmers having less agricultural lands, farmers who have taken land in rent for agricultural purposes and the farmers who are economically backward are doing farming through ploughing, tillage by hand-hoe, etc and the farmers having more lands ploughs their few of the lands and those who don’t have manpower and the family members to plough their lands usually use tractors for tillage, here. And, according to our research, out of 40 farmers, 23 of them plough their land and 36 of them tillage their agricultural lands.

2.5 Fallow land, water uses and mulch :

2.5.1 Fallow land

As per data record of NPC(National Planning Commission), CBS(Central Bureau of Statistics) and Agriculture Ministry, about 21 per cent of the total area of Nepal  has been defined as cultivable land and out of which 40.3 percent of total cultivable land falls within foot-accessible range of mountain and hill zones (Agriculture Census, 2011). Up to near past, the hilly range remained capable enough to make surplus agro-products feeding 56.7 percent of the total population of the country (Agriculture Census, 2011), but the entire region is now fallen into food deficit area. One of the reasons is that the old shifting cultivation and animal husbandry having higher potentials and being environmentally feasible in the higher hills and mountains is now on the verge of disappearance.

The other reason is that one of the working age people from every third household is working abroad and an equal portion of the remaining population is reluctantly waiting in queue. The size of crop land either of hills or mountains or Terai significantly reduced from generation to generation. None of the locations or regions of the country has sustained food sufficient. Statistics from Central Bank of Nepal and custom offices signify that the country has caught up in unlimited pressure of food dependency.

And, these reasons, clearly explain the reasons of the Nepal having fallow lands and reasons behind the fallow land of Agnisair Krishna Sawaran Rural Municipality is the working age group people working in gulf nations like Dubai, Qatar, Malasiya, etc and the remaining same people are waiting in queue. Only the old generation are doing agriculture, also the farmers grows cereals like paddy in their entire agricultural land which is only in monsoon seasons, and other seasons lands remain empty because farmers grow cash crops sufficient to feed their family and reason behind it here is lack of irrigation, etc due to which we have fallow lands here. According to our research, out of 40 farmers, 36 of them have fallow lands, here.

2.5.2 Water Usage

Development of agricultural sector can play a pivotal role in meeting the country’s food demand i.e for overall food security, employment creation at rural level, and export earning through commercialization of agriculture. Therefore, development of this sector has become an inevitable necessity of today which can only be realized by raising the cropping intensity through increase in coverage of cultivable land with round the year irrigation facilities. Although we have about 6,000 rivers in Nepal and we have the second largest freshwater resources after Brazil in the world – Nepalese are facing the problem of irrigation. In case of Agnisaer Krishna Sawaran Rural Municipality, more than 60% of farmers are facing the problem of irrigation as they don’t have access to irrigation facility and they have to depend on rain water only.

Soil preparationNb. Water usageNb.
Chemical fertilizers39 Irrigation pump & Other14
Tillage36 Other11
fallow land36 Irrigation pump & Pipes4
Natural fertilizers28 Irrigation pump & Pipes & Other5
Ploughing23 Irrigation pump & Pipes &Drainage & Other4
Mulch1 Irrigation pump1
   Pipes & Other1
Total40 Total40
Soil preparation and water usage by Saptari farmers

2.6 Soil evaluation is not a reflex

Less than half of the farmers surveyed assess the composition of their soil. This assessment is made only by the visual aspect that he describes as a mixture of clayey and sandy.

The crop rotation system isn’t used by farmers.

2.7 Organic farming : a very uncommon practice

In case of terai, the majority of the farming communities have extremely small landholdings of less than 0.5 hectares – and who also produce for their daily consumption. In case of terai, markets are near to the rural areas, access of transportation facilities, availability of chemicals, has made farmers easier to use chemicals in their lands.

The majority of farmers practice conventional agriculture with the use of agro-chemicals.

Since they declare that they are satisfied with their production and that they are not aware of any alternative practices, changing modes to organic farming is not considered:“We must be satisfied as we don’t have another option”, “Production is less but also I have not stopped doing agriculture because I have no other option than this”, “Production is very good as I am using chemicals”, “As the old method of doing the agriculture is not so good so we need to change it”, “We don’t know how to do agriculture in a better way”.

Organic agriculture is not commonly practiced : only 1 farmer out of 40 questioned declares to practise solely organic farming “I started doing organic farming as I have enough manure in my land”. Another 3 consider practising halfway organic with some organic methods but using the argo-chemicals in parallel. Indeed, to compensate for the drop in yield observed at the beginning of the process, farmers had no choice but to use chemical products in parallel to obtain a production level that ensures their food security “If only done organic farming the production yields less”, “Yes, so I also added little chemicals to increase my produce”.

They started organic farming only with manure. Only 1 started with a formal training of organic farming.

3. Financial aspects

3.1 Agriculture remains a low-income subsistence activity

Agriculture in Nepal has long been based on subsistence farming, providing relatively low incomes. As, agriculture done by Nepalese farmers is just to feed their family. In Saptatri, 39.5% of the total population live under the poverty line. Agnisair Krisna Sarawan is not an exception, as 70% of the farmers interviewed receive less than Rs. 15,000 per month ($ 135) from their agricultural activities (Figure 3) and 9 out of 40 farmers report having a situation of financial loss. In addition, there is an increase in expenditure on phyto products due to product prices but also to the quantities used to offset the fall in yields recorded by a majority of the interviewed “To produce more I am increasing the dose of chemicals every year”.

However, almost a third say that their farm’s production does not allow them to be self-sufficient and they need to buy extra foods (vegetables and pulses for majority and for a few rice, paddy onion, greens, chili and wheat)

Figure 3. How much do you earn per month from agriculture in present context?

Figure 3. How much do you earn per month from agriculture in present context?

Moreover, none of them have received financial assistance from the government for their agricultural activity. Also, the usage level of loans is very low (only 6 farmers interviewed had used this opportunity).

3.3 Farmers don’t keep accounts

These interviews allowed us to realize that farmers are not familiar with accounting. Only 2 out of 40 farmers reported holding one. However, this is essential, first of all to realize the financial situation and to react in the event of a loss.

4. Market aspects

About 81% of Nepalese people are living in rural areas – rural people refers to people living in rural areas i.e backward areas as defined by national statistical offices. Rural marketing helps in employment generation, rapid economic growth, improved living standards, development of agro-based industries, easy marketability of agricultural procedures, etc.

Agnisaer Krishna Sawaran Rural Municipality is composed of rural areas and most of the farmers are dependent on the rural markets and rural consumers.

4.1 The main distribution channels are direct sales to consumers and shops

Most of the farmers interviewed sell their production, directly to consumers or via shop (Figure). Those who do not make a sale would be interested to sell directly to consumer first of all to have more money but also “to get money at one time”, “to know the feedback about my produce”, “get reasonable price from them”, “save my time”.

Figure 4.To whom do you sell your agricultural products and how often ?

Figure 4.To whom do you sell your agricultural products and how often ?

Most farmers are not members of a cooperative (especially for lack of information) or other networks.

Most of them use seed hybrids bought in shops.

5. Saptari in the future….

Agriculture in Saptari is still traditional and labor-intensive. Most of the farmers of Saptari are still doing traditional methods of farming. Due to traditional farming, work is very difficult and production is very low. Farmers are not skilled in the methods of modern agriculture. They are also not healthy enough to realize the potential of their farms. Crops are destroyed by pests, insects and weeds.

As we have the availability of water resources but we have not been able to utilize our vast water resources to irrigate our cultivable lands. Hardly about 25-30% of land under cultivation has good irrigation facilities. So, farmers have to depend on monsoon rain which is not timely and reliable. In winter, most of the farm lands remain unused due to lack of irrigation facilities. During each monsoon, landslides and floods, excessive rain damages the crop land.

Saptari farmers are subsistence farmers. They are also compelled to take loans even to run their family. Most of them are born in debt and die in debt. Interest rates are high (often and up to 18 percent). Much of their production goes in paying interests. In such conditions, they cannot afford applying new technology and machinery to improve farming.

For the future farmers imagine that Saptari will be equipped with irrigation facility, provision of agricultural loans & subsidy to farmers, organic manure, training about modern methods, hybrid seeds, less chemicals and electricity supply in every land.

6. Issues

6.1 Decrease soil fertility and lack irrigation system : major problem for farmers

Soil fertility and plant nutrition has a very important role in sustaining increased agricultural productivity in Saptari. One of the major factors responsible for downward trends of agricultural productivity is the fertility decline. The depletion of macro and micro nutrients in soil are resulted due to intensive cultivation, soil erosion, inadequate supply of organic matter, lack of crop residue and green manure, and injudicious use of chemical fertilizers.

During the past year the interviewed farmers were facing production decrease. Indeed, the soil is less and less fertile because of the use of pesticides and of increasingly frequent droughts. And the lack of irrigation systems, manpower, manure, subsidies and better seed expressed by almost half of the farmers who do not help farmers cope with these difficulties. The degradation of soil quality observed in recent years/decades is leading to changes in species and varieties. Farmers also face diseases a insects that they infect the crops. On the other hand most of the farmers are satisfied with their livestock production.

6.2 Chemicals and endless use

Moreover, even though all farmers are aware of the harmful effects of the use of chemicals, some continue to use them to compensate for the drop in productivity by increasing the dose. This inconsistency consequently increases their expenses and thus contributes to reducing their income like an endless loop.

6.3 Access to clean water

The water issue is also a problem in Nepal as there is no water filtration or purification system that would allow crops to be watered with clean water. Thus it is difficult to certify that the production is organic. At present, each farm in the saptari has a handpump that provides direct access to the groundwater table. However, no analysis to our knowledge has been conducted on water composition. This is why we are setting up a project on the Spiral Farme House in partnership with the University of Louvain (Belgium) to diagnose and develop a water filter – if necessary – that will allow farmers to have clean water and guarantee organic production.

6.4 Convince them to switch to organic

As the majority of farmers are satisfied with their jobs it would be challenging to propose them an alternative to their actual farming practices and to bring them aware of the farm business model to promote the self-employment.

6.5 How to become profitable ?

Moreover, because consumers would not be willing to pay much more, as we researched the local consumers in a separate survey for food decision makers –, organic farmers do not sell their products more expensively, they declare unanimously.

6.5 Provide the knowledge to understand the issues and have the keys to change

It is difficult to offer organic training if people don’t know what it is. Half of the farmers interviewed are not interested in the courses because they don’t know what it is.

7. Organic farming knowledge

More than half of the farmers surveyed have never heard of “organic”

For the other they define organic as “Agriculture done by compost manure and without chemical”, “Prepare by putting livestock manure and leaves in hole”, “Natural Manure made of dung, plant residue used in land is termed as organic”.

Labelling is not a known concept

The majority of the farmers interviewed do not know or have never heard of it, which is why none are labelled.

8. How to adapt our program

8.1 To preserve health, farmers are ready to switch to organic farming

All the farmers we interviewed said they were interested in switching to organic. Indeed, they are unanimous in thinking that it is necessary to practice environmentally friendly agriculture. The farmers’ first and foremost concern goes for health matters but also because it would reduce their expenses on chemical inputs. This pheasant would help to revitalize the soil and make the land more productive, but the means are lacking. Farmers would “Get training about organic farming practices”, “Access more easily to organic compost and seeds”, “Obtain some financial support”, “Obtain insurance”, “Be connected to some customers/middlemen interested into buying it?”, “Be part of an organic cooperative”, “Have to provide respect and prize to farmers”, “Have to transform the mentality of farmers”, “Irrigation facility”  to make the switch to organic.

Farmers who are already somewhat familiar with the organic concept are very motivated and ready to learn. Almost half of farmers interviewed wished the “Training should be launched as soon as possible” shared by.

It should be noted, however, that domestic work in addition to agriculture activities takes a lot of time in their daily schedule, leaving little time for parallel training.

They state that they are ready to spend between 2 to 5 hours once a week for 16 to 20 weeks of training. However, it should be free of charge or preferably not exceed Rs 200 per month. Namely that it is possible for them to use a loan at an interest rate of 0 to finance this training.

8.2 What we propose to provide them

In response to these questions, we have included some of these proposals in our program for those who would be ready to switch:

We plan to provide a starting kit containing:

  • A note book
  • An accounting book
  • A calculator
  • Small material (pen, pencil, rubber, ruler, etc)
  • A drum for the liquid compost
  • Training about sustainable farming techniques and Social entrepreneurship from agro specialist

8.3 A peer to peer training is needed

The particularity of the training we offer to farmers interested in switching – in addition to the courses on sustainable farming practices – is to teach them how to train other farmers in turn. Indeed, the role of peers is important in the transmission of practices who will themselves encourage their peers “If other farmers would also engage themselves in organic it would be easier for me”.  Especially since they are unanimous to be interested (i) by learning organic techniques and applying it to your land, (ii) by teaching organic techniques to farmers who want to learn, (iii) by raising awareness on organic farming.  In doing so, we strengthen the links between farmers and guarantee that the information will be returned via peer-to-peer training. That’s why a technical referee will be specially dedicated to support farmers during the transition phase. A technical refree will be a person who has agricultural knowledge and his/her responsibility is to visit farmers and observe and record their agricultural lands and the progress, give them necessary advice and feedback, also help in the documentation of the project based on his/her observations.

8.4 Offer training with materials adapted to their literacy skills

Given the low levels of literacy in Nepalese (Only 26 farmers out of 40 interviewed said they read and write Nepalese) but also in English (17 out of 40 can read and write in english and 6 speak it) and given that farmers have little access to digital tools (internet, computer, cell phone or smartphone) and do not master them, we will propose a theoretical and practical approach based on workshops. Learners will also have an illustrated booklet for reference.

This confirms, with the illiteracy rate, the need for agricultural experts or technicians to support the farmers with technical information and economic recording assistance onsite.