Agriculture is the livelihood for more than 80% of the population. Agriculture is the main source of food, income, and employment for the majority. It contributes to 35% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Nepal. Efforts to boost the agricultural sector by Government of Nepal and foreign aid agencies have focused on various issues but notably crop diversification and technical capacity building of farmers.
With the government’s crusade against lackluster productivity in the agricultural sector, it has resorted to quick fixes such as intervention of fertilizers and pesticides to thrust Nepal into modern and commercial farming. The annual average fertilizer requirement in Nepal to replenish the soil nutrition is 310 kg per hectare but only 29 kg of fertilizer is added to the soil. Fifty per cent of nutrient loss from the soil occurs during the early monsoon.
But indiscriminate and excess application of fertilizers to the soil and waterways have huge human and environment costs. Some soil microorganisms can transform nitrogen provided in fertilizers into greenhouse gas nitrous oxide which gets released into the atmosphere. Greenhouse are one of the main factors accelerating global warming. Addition or leakage of fertilizers to the waterways like excess nitrogen is called eutrophication which promotes the growth of microorganisms, algae, and plants that can use up all the oxygen from the aquatic animals who cannot live without oxygen.
Likewise, farmers use chemical pesticides without considering insect pest monitoring and economic thresholds, pesticide label instructions, pre-harvest interval requirement, personal protective gear, impact on humans and the environment. Problems of pesticide usage include pesticide storage with foods, mixing pesticides with barren hands, overdose application of pesticides, disposal of pesticide waste into local waterways and drainage, use of insecticide such as Endosulfan for killing fish and treating cattle disease, use of pesticide treated grains for making alcohol and feeding ponies, dipping green vegetables for freshness and spraying to keep flies off fish on display.
It is critical to educate the farmers on all aspects of fertilizers and pesticide use, disposal, and consequences of improper usage among both farmers and retailers. About 90% of Nepalese farmers were aware of adverse effects of pesticides on human health and to the environment but unable or willing to implement safeguards against its misuse. Only 17% growers received at least one short-term training on integrated pest management and over 90% of growers rely on local pesticide retailers for pesticide technical know-how. Farmers’ knowledge of fertilizers and pesticides and their safe use are critical for implementing effective pest management and soil fertility enhancement program.