A fungal infection threatens to blow away 80 per cent of this year's paddy harvest in the Tila Valley of Jumla, the world's highest rice cultivation area.
The Karnali is a chronic food-deficit area but the irrigated valleys of the Tila and Sinja rivers have consistently good harvests of the Marsi variety of high altitude rice. But their hopes were dashed as the harvest time neared. "We burnt our paddy fields as the yield was very low," says Devu Nepali, who blames the heavy monsoon rains during the transplantation period for the spread of the rice blast fungus.
However Bed Chaulagain of the District Agriculture Office here says the indiscriminate use of pesticides could be the main reason for the spread of the fungus. "Excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides that also kill good bugs that would otherwise have controlled the fungus could have made the conditions right for the spread of the blast lesion in the rice plants," Chaulagain says.
Other farmers like Nepali say they have lost half their harvest, and are now worried about how they will provide for their families through Jumla's harsh winter months. Kal Bahadur Rawal is now thinking of migrating to find work to buy food for his family this year.
Chaulagain says that some farmers who planted the Chandanath variety of rice had healthy harvests and didn't suffer losses, but it was the Marsi who suffered the worst losses. There are 3,000 hectares of paddy planted in Jumla every year, and the town itself needs about 25,000 tons of rice. But this year the district capital may have to depend on outside rice to see itself through the winter.