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Farmer Field Schools – Learning on the farm

Farmers in Takuche village in Nepal learnt eco-friendly ways of managing pests in apple orchards through Farmer Field School. The year long school also enriched them with the knowledge of better management of the orchards. Today, Takuche farmers are less concerned about pest attack as they are empowered with the knowledge of raising a ‘healthy’ apple orchard.

Apple growers participating in the FFS at Mustang.

Apple growers participating in the FFS at Mustang.

Mustang, one of the remote districts in Western Development Region of Nepal, is located behind the Himalayan region. Lying between two Himalayan ranges – Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri, it is also the most beautiful place for tourism.Majority of the people living in this region belong to Thakali and Gurung communities. While apple is the major fruit crop grown, the local communities also grow crops like wheat, buckwheat, barley, potato and seasonal vegetables. These crops serve the food as well as income needs of the communities.

Farmers Field School

Tukuche village lies in the middle part of Mustang district. Farmers in this village have been growing delicious varieties of apple such as Red Delicious, Royal Delicious, Rich-A-Red Delicious. These varieties have been prone to pest attacks. Farmers have been resorting to spraying harmful pesticides to control them. The high levels of pesticide use was having a negative impact on the soil, environment, water resources and human health.

Normally, apple orchards need to include a pollinizer variety in a proper ratio, for better pollination and fruit set. However, farmers were not including Golden Delicious, a polliniser variety is one of the major pollinizer and self-fruitful variety of apple that plays an important role in pollination. However, owing to its low post harvest life, farmers usually do not prefer this variety.

Owing to the high pesticide use, Takuche village was chosen for the IPM Farmer Field School programme supported by the National IPM Programme of Government of Nepal (GON). The technical personnel from District Agriculture Development Office in Mustang, facilitated the IPM Farmer Field School (FFS).

The year-long FFS started during December 2011. Around 20 farmers from the village actively participated in the FFS. Apple orchard with 15-year old trees was selected for conducting the FFS. The FFS was conducted at an interval of 15 days for the entire year. Along with IPM, the FFS included special sessions on various topics.

Two blocks each with 20 trees was earmarked for adopting IPM methods and farmers method for comparison. In the IPM block, different IPM methods including cultural, mechanical and biological methods were adopted. On the other hand, in the farmers practice block, the farmers used their own practices.

Agro-ecosystem analysis was done during every FFS session. Farmers were organized into sub groups. The members of each group discussed and recorded various identified parameters for doing the agro-ecosystem analysis. Analysis was done for both the blocks. After analyzing, farmers presented the results comparing both the methods.

Results

Apple grower monitors the IPM plot along with the Agriculture Officers. Photo: Niraj Tulachan
Apple grower monitors the IPM plot along with the Agriculture Officers. Photo: Niraj Tulachan

The year-long FFS gave an opportunity for farmers to interact and learn by doing, resulting in increase in their knowledge levels. They understand that to control fungal disease in apple orchards, all they have to do is to spray of Bordeaux mixture at the right time, which is also safe to soil heath, environment and human health. Earlier they were using chemicals like Carbendazim and Mancozeb to control this fungus.Similarly, they now know that insects pests like wooly aphid, san jose scale, red spider mites etc., can be controlled by neem based pesticides instead of chemicals like Dimethoate, Cypermethrin and Endosulphan, which they were earlier using.

Moving beyond IPM, farmers knowledge on apple orchard management as a whole has been widened due to FFS. Now they understand the importance of pollinisers for better fruit set. As one of the FFS participants, Ghale B.K., puts it, “I had cut five plants of Golden Delicious from my orchard not knowing that helped in pollination. But now I wish to plant them back”. Farmers understand that there are a number of agro-ecological relationships within an environment and what we practice can have an effect on such relationships. After FFS, they are able to see the relationship between the use of chemicals, the reduced pollination and reduced yields. Hari Prasad Thakali, another participant says, “due to excessive use of chemical pesticides, the bee colonies have been destroyed that resulted in poor pollination and poor fruit set”.

FFS has also helped them understand that while maize and potato are nutrient exhausting crops, legume crops enhanced the soil fertility.

Learning leads to change

Well managed apple orchard intercropped with legumes. Photo: Binod Ghimire
Well managed apple orchard intercropped with legumes. Photo: Binod Ghimire

With enhanced knowledge gained through FFS, farmers of Tukuche village are now managing their apple orchards in a holistic way. While they are adopting IPM methods for pest control, they are also planting pollinizer varieties for better fruit set.Farmers are also planning to introduce some bee hives in the orchards and protecting them by using safe pesticides. Also by including intercrops like legumes, they are ensuring that the soils are not depleted of their nutrients.

The success of FFS is spreading. Farmers who did not participate in the FFS too are learning from those who are now more knowledgeable.

Though organizing FFS programme for a period of one year was a challenge with limited availability of IPM tools, materials and resources, the programme did bring a lasting change in the farmers. Today, IPM is not just an agriculture practice but has become a way of farming in Tukuche village.

Kafle Narayan and Binod Ghimire

Narayan Kafle
Horticulture Development Officer
District Agriculture Development Office (DADO)
Mustang, Nepal.
E-mail: narankaphle@gmail.com

Binod Ghimire
Agriculture Extension Officer
District Agriculture Development Office (DADO)
Mustang, Nepal.
E-mail: binodghim@gmail.com