Rural farmers travel to Kathmandu for fertilisers, only to return empty-handed

- ARJUN POUDEL, Kathmandu

Jun 23, 2019-

Bishnu Prasad Ghimire came to Kathmandu from Champadevi in Okhaldhunga district on Thursday, looking for chemical fertilisers for his maize crops. For three days, Ghimire visited numerous depots and sales outlets, but they were all out. He was told that a Sajha Cooperative depot in Bhadrakali would sell fertilisers--urea, di-ammonium phosphate and potassium0--on Sunday.

“I stood in line for six hours,” a flustered Ghimire told the Post on Sunday morning. “When my turn came, they said they had run out of stock.”

The 40-year-old-farmer, who also works under the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project in Okhaldhunga, said he had come to Kathmandu on behalf of over 60 farming families in his village.

“I need 50 sacks of urea, 10 sacks of DAP and five sacks of potassium,” he said.

Across the country, farmers like Ghimire are reeling from a critical shortage of chemical fertilisers, which are generally sold under subsidised rates by the government. However, imports for this planting season have been delayed due to a variety of factors, including a delay in the Finance Ministry’s release of funds to purchase more fertilisers, according to officials from the Ministry of Agriculture.

On Sunday, the Bhadrakali Sajha depot was filled with hundreds of farmers from various districts--Okhaldhunga, Sindhupalchok, Ramechhap, Dolakha, Nuwakot, Dhading, and Rasuwa, among others. Most of them had begun queuing up for fertiliser as early as 5am. At one point, there was even a minor scuffle when some farmers attempted to jump the queue.

Most of these farmers were worried about their maize crops, as it is currently a peak planting time. Without fertilisers, their corn is likely to produce fewer kernels or stunted cobs, said farmers.  

Budha Kumari Tamang from Namobuddha in Kavrepalanchok said that she had already lost all hope for her maize crop.

“It’s already late, we should have applied fertiliser by now,” the visibly upset 50-year-old told the Post. “We survive on maize crops. When we don’t have enough for ourselves, what are we going to give to our cattle to eat?”

Officials at Bhadrakali’s Sajha Cooperatives, a distribution outlet, said that they were under immense pressure from farmers but they had no fertiliser in stock to distribute.

“We had about 40 sacks in stock but there were more than 100 people waiting in line,” said Lab Bikram Bista, a Sajha sales official. “Krishi Samagri has stopped supplying fertilisers.”

Krishi Samagri Company Limited and National Trading Limited are the two government agencies that import and distribute chemical fertilisers through various sub-agencies like Sajha.

However, Achyut Poudel, general manager of Krishi Samagri, was dismissive of the farmers’ plight and said that there was sufficient fertiliser for all districts, contradicting the Ministry of Agriculture.

“I don’t know why they came to Kathmandu for fertiliser,” said Poudel “They might have come here to see the drama.”

When asked about the number of farmers in Kathmandu seeking fertilisers because of a critical shortage in their districts, Poudel brusquely replied that he had to oversee 65 districts throughout the country and did not have detailed information about them all.

Poudel said that his office had supplied 4,000 sacks of fertiliser to districts across the country on Sunday but that contractors could’ve delayed the supply because of increasing transportation costs and an increase in Value Added Tax.  

Farmers, however, also complained of red tape affecting their access to fertilisers. Depot officials were demanding photocopies of citizenship certificates, land ownership certificates and recommendation letters from the respective local governments, according to farmers.

While farmers are desperate for fertilisers for their maize crops, the monsoon, which was late this year but is set to begin soon, will make things worse as farmers will need fertilisers for their paddy crops.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, the annual demand for chemical fertilisers stands at 723,000 tonnes while imports account for just 286,000 tonnes while the rest is met by informal imports or shipments smuggled in from India.

On Sunday, only around two dozen farmers were lucky to receive a few sacks of fertilisers.

“I managed to get one sack of nitrogen after standing in line for hours,” said Kopila Tamang, a 43-year-old farmer from Okharpauwa in Nuwakot. “But my neighbours have returned empty-handed."

Published: 24-06-2019 07:00

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