Developing Bio-fertilizers in Nepal

Since January 2019, Almost Heaven Farms, in a cooperative effort with Chris Evans of the Himalayan Permaculture Centre and Juanfran Lopez, has been supporting farmers across the Himalayan bioregion to transition to regenerative agriculture through the development and use of bio-fertilizers. Bio-fertilizers can be made using locally available materials, and increase the health of soil, and nutritional value and productivity of crops.


This project focuses on four strategies to accomplish this goal:


Research - Three mini production centres and research trials have been set up in the hills and lowlands of Nepal to measure the effectiveness of different bio-fertilizers on different crops grown at varying elevations providing sound scientific proof of the results of bio-fertilizers, which is soon to be published in a peer-reviewed paper. 

Education - Training programs and materials have been developed to educate farmers, government workers/officials and non-governmental organisation's staff on bio-fertilizers, their production and uses. A bio-fertilizer training manual is being developed in both English and Nepali languages.

Production - Production units have been established across the country. 12 bio-fertilizers have been developed using local resources and are currently being trialed.

Network - The Nepal Bio-fertilizer Network has been established to connect bio-fertilizer training participants from across Nepal and to share experiences and information related to this field. The network is made up of farmers, academics, governmental and non-governmental officials, both nationally and internationally, dedicated to the promotion of bio-fertilizers and efforts are being made to extend the network to include organizations, government bodies and the business community.


Above: Juanfran Lopez delivers training on bio-fertilizers, soil science and plant health


BACKGROUND

According to the International Labour Organisation, agriculture provides livelihoods for 68% of Nepal's population, accounting for 34% of the GDP. Nevertheless, Nepal struggles to produce an adequate supply of food for its citizens and it is estimated that 36% of Nepali children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition


Food security in Nepal depends on land productivity as managed by small land holders who face challenges in both productivity and sustainability. This project provides farmers across this bioregion with the knowledge, tools and local resources to make on-site bio-fertilizers, improve their soil and grow more nutritious food.


Adaptation to climate change in the agricultural and allied sectors is a major current and future challenge for Nepal, particularly as Nepal is ranked 4th under the Climate Vulnerability Index. The majority of the population is still dependent on highly climate-sensitive agriculture. In recent years, long drought spells during the monsoon season, increased temperatures and unseasonal heavy rains during winter have caused serious distress to agriculture-dependent communities in many locations.


Bio-fertilizers can improve food production in a way which is beneficial for the surrounding environment. A bio-fertilizer is a substance which contains living microorganisms which, when applied to seeds, plant surfaces, or soil, colonise the rhizosphere or the interior of the plant and promotes growth by increasing the supply or availability of nutrients to the host plant thereby restoring the soil's natural nutrient cycle. Through the use of bio-fertilizers, healthy plants can be grown, while enhancing the health of the soil. 



These drums contain fermented stinging nettle and weeping willow liquid bio-fertilizers.



WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? 


IMPACT ON PLANET

- improved food production and security

- carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in the soil

- increased biological diversity in soils

- decreased soil erosion

- improved water retention in the ground, particularly in higher regions of the Nepalese landscape

- decreased production of greenhouse gases

- less water pollution from agricultural run-off


IMPACT ON PEOPLE

- nutrient dense food

- healthier rural environments

- provides a buffer for farmers, to help protect their production from flooding, drought, pest and disease

- increased knowledge of soil science and plant health for farmers 

- increased production and meaningful livelihoods

- reduced costs and improved financial security

- lowered levels of stress, depression and suicide


COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT

Bio-fertilizers are a set of tools that, when combined with agro-ecological management practices, have the potential to empower farmers to regenerate soils and the ecologies around them. While focusing on soil health and growing a diversity of plants, we also start to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it into the ground. This improves the holding capacity of water in the soil, creates habitats for wildlife, grows more nutrient dense food and increases the value of crops that farmers are growing. The farmers start to see their farm as more than just a place to grow food, but also as a living ecosystem. Farmers become one of the most important segments of society with the potential to help restore the biosphere while also growing nutritious food, improving the health of the communities around them.



Farmers from west Nepal collect local native microbes from their local jungle to propagate out and use as an inoculant for their soil.


SCALABILITY

While still in the preliminary stage of research and development, this project is putting in the foundations needed to scale up across the bioregion, including working with multiple key stakeholders to help develop local and national policy on regenerative agriculture.


At the same time concurrent projects are being run across Africa by Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI) and Rural Community in Development Uganda (RUCID).


The potential for scaling this project is significant. Bio-fertilizers and their inputs are based on the utilisation of local resources. In fact, the best microbes for improving farm production will come from the closest forest or local farm animals. The initial investment needed for starting up local bio-fertilizer production units is cheap and the process is easy. All that is needed is water drums, pipes and few other plumbing materials that can be sourced at any hardware store.


REPLICABILITY 

This project directly applies the principle of valuing local knowledge and resources and implementing programs that are appropriate to communities across the Himalayan region. Several farmers and extension workers have already started to implement their own bio-fertilizer development and research in their working areas. Stories and findings are shared through our Bio-fertilizer Nepal Network hosted on Facebook. We are ready to help communities replicate this project as soon as it is safe to do so.



Alisha Devi Magar, a young permaculturist representing the Magar tribe helps teach farmers about soil health and plant needs.


WHAT’S NEXT FOR THIS PROJECT?

Bio-fertilizers are currently being introduced into the agricultural policy of Suryodaya Municipality, Ilam, Nepal with the support of Almost Heaven Farms. Over the coming fiscal year, we will be training more than 100 farmers in these methods and introducing bio-fertilizers in 12 villages.


Bio-fertilizers are continually being trialled in 3 villages on a range of different crops. This research is being shared with both local and international academics to document the results to be published in a peer-reviewed paper in the near future.



CONTACT ALMOST HEAVEN FARMS

Almost Heaven Farms is a permaculture demonstration, training, research and resource centre based out of Ilam, Nepal in the eastern hillside of the Himalayas. AHF supports farming communities transition to regenerative agriculture, restoring local soils, water sources and ecologies. 


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CONTACT US

If you would like to know more about Bio-fertilizers, or join our network of regenerative practitioners, contact us here.



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