PICS: MADHU SUDHAN GURAGAIN
Few stop here. But this is where Americans Judith Chase (pictured) and her husband Jim have made their home, practicing and promoting a model of sustainable agriculture in their small but busy organic farm. There are more than 1,000 species of vegetables, fruits, berries and fodder here, all grown without using chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
The farm has a strict policy against using hybrid and GMOs and encourages use of Nepali open pollinated seeds. Even with less input the yield is high and their fresh produce are a hit at organic markets of Kathmandu where they are bought at good price by expats and an increasingly local clientele. But growing and selling organic products are only a part of what they do at their farm called 'Everything Organic'.
The farm serves as a school to train Nepali farmers on the methods of bio-intensive agriculture based on deep-digging, use of compost and insect control through diverse cropping patterns and botanical sprays. "We teach farmers right from the basics, impart them the skills, and when they start cultivation, help them find market for it," Judith says, "the goal is to develop a community of organic farmers with a cooperative marketing system."
Judith is hopeful because a similar initiative she started in Thimi in the 1980s trained 200 local women many of whom are still growing organic vegetables. At Paatlekhet, she hopes to replicate the project on a larger scale. "There is no reason why Nepali farmers have to be poor or have to eat chemical-laced food," says Judith, who is now looking to promote high value nuts and fruit trees among Nepali farmers.
"It is only a matter of knowing which crop grows well in which climate and are profitable," says Lama who makes it to Paatlekhet to share his ideas with farmers every week. These women are on a month long residential training where they learn about the benefits of organic farming, master the techniques of double digging and prepare compost and herbicides from locally available materials.
By the end of the intensive course which the farm offers for free, the women are sent not just with the know-how to grow organic but a market for what they produce. A shop in Dhulikhel serves as the outlet for the freshly produced vegetables by local women. With more production, the nursery hopes the prices will go down and people would be more interested in purchasing organic products.
Nanumaya Tamang is a trainee, and recounts how using excessive chemical fertiliser had ruined her soil. "I could not break the ground with my axe. I have stopped using chemicals since then but the soil is still hard."
Judith says there is a lot to be learned from local farmers and has started an initiative to save seeds by involving women. She says: "These seeds are well adapted to local soil and climate, and are better than imported hybrids. Why spend money on expensive imported seeds when we have better options in Nepal?"
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