An awareness rally organized in Fikal of Suryodaya Municipality, Illam for raising awareness against the use of banned pesticides in farms in this recent picture. Photo: Bhim Chapagain/Republica
ILAM, July 21: At a time when over use of pesticides have been increasingly posing risks to people's life, Suryodaya Municipality of Ilam is gearing up to be a pesticide free zone in three years. For this, the municipality is working with stakeholders - farmers, people's representatives and industrialists. According to the plan, vegetables, crops and tea grown in this municipality will be fully organic.
"It is for the good of all. Pesticides are poisons – not medicines," said Rana Bahadur Rai, mayor of the municipality. "The agricultural sector is going to be free of pesticides. We are working on a three year plan to achieve the goal," he added.
In the first phase, the municipality has planned to raise awareness among the people by launching public campaigns, publicizing banned pesticides, developing mechanisms to implement the ban and monitoring border areas to check smuggling of banned pesticides.
In the second phase, the municipality plans to raise awareness about organic substitutes for pesticides, raiding markets and farms and developing factories for producing organic pesticides.
"We have already started working on this. For instance, we have launched awareness campaigns in schools. We are offering substitutes for pesticides. As it is a joint venture with the stakeholders, it is going on pretty well and we expect it be successful," said Rai.
In the third phase, there are long-term policies to ensure that the campaign achieves its goals on a sustainable basis.
Even otherwise, towns and villages within this municipality have earned reputation of producing organic products. Tea produced here has a high demand in the market for its organic quality. The farmers here boast that their tea goes overseas. However, some farmers are unhappy with the government stating that it has not been able to create fair market for their products. Due to lack of standard testing or processing mechanism, their products sold at cheaper rates, they lament.
Requesting anonymity, a farmer from the municipality stated that the lack of healthy competition is also one of the reasons that farmers' labor is not rewarded. "There is no doubt that the tea and vegetables we produce here are healthy. We do not use harmful pesticides. Many of use normal fertilizers," he said. He added that the lack of proper testing of the quality and market has led to 'low return' for the farmers.
Organic tea from this municipality area is exported to German, USA, Australia, Canada, China and The Netherlands, among other countries. Just a few days back, 17 businesspersons from nine countries had come to Sriantu area of the municipality to test organic tea. The municipality office had coordinated for this.
"We understand the problem of our farmers. We are coordinating to promote our products," said Rai. "We have improved our strategy and approach. Foreigners who come here frequently will be taken into confidence by assuring them the quality of our farmer's produce. This time, we were able to coordinate with some interested foreign companies and arrange for their visit. They came and tested tea here," he added.
According to the mayor, like the locals, international companies and businesspersons also have mostly stressed on growing organic tea. "If any company or farmer comes up with sub standard product, it harms everyone. Earning good name or bad name equally affects all. People have understood this. Moreover, organic tea gets good prices. So, producing quality tea or any other product is beneficial for all," he said.
Rai stated that tea produced in the municipality will be of international standard and that the municipality will leave no stone unturned to achieve this target.
There are five tea-processing factories in the municipality. Around 4 million kg of tea is produced here annually. Of these, however, only 200,000 kg is exported overseas at better price. "We want to change this figure. We plan that we produce four million kg of organic tea that can be exported at better price. Just imagine how much that will benefit the economy. I am confident that we can do it," says Rai.
The next hope of the mayor is vegetable farming. Many of the municipality's residents are into vegetable farming. If things go as Rai have envisioned, 'fully organic' vegetables will create its own fierce market, he sates.
"Our organic vegetable production is equally very high. The only thing we have to do for getting better market is to brand it well. Once we control pesticide use and gain confidence of the market, it will do wonders," Rai said.
The municipality is famous for produces such as ginger, chili, tomatoes, radish and cucumber, among others.