Agriculture and Human Values 22 (2):243-258 (2005)

Sustaining soil fertility is essential to the prosperity of many households in the mid-hills of Nepal, but there are concerns that the breakdown of the traditional linkages between forest, livestock, and cropping systems is adversely affecting fertility. This study used triangulated data from surveys of households, discussion groups, and key informants in 16 wards in eastern and western Nepal to determine the existing practices for soil fertility management, the extent of such practices, and the perception of the direction of changes in soil fertility. The two principal practices for maintaining soil fertility were the application of farmyard manure (FYM) and of chemical fertilizer (mainly urea and diammonium phosphate). Green manuring, in-situ manuring, slicing terrace risers, and burning plant residues are rarely practiced. FYM usage was variable with more generally applied to khet land (average 6053 kg fresh weight manure ha−1) than to bari land (average 4185 kg fresh weight manure ha−1) with manure from goats and poultry preferred above that from cows and buffaloes. Almost all households (98%) apply urea to khet land and 87% to bari land, with 45% applying diammonium phosphate to both types of land. Application rates and timings of applications varied considerably both within and between wards suggesting poor knowledge transfer between the research and farming communities. The benefits of chemical fertilizers in terms of ease of application and transportation in comparison with FYM, were perceived to outweigh the widely reported detrimental hardening of soil associated with their continued usage. Among key informants, FYM applied in conjunction with chemical fertilizer was the most popular amendment, with FYM alone preferred more than chemical fertilizer alone – probably because of the latter’s long-term detrimental effects. Key informant and householder surveys differed in their perception of fertility changes in the last decade probably because of differences in age and site-specific knowledge. All key informants felt that fertility had declined but among households, only about 40% perceived a decline with the remainder about evenly divided between no change and an increase. Householders with small landholdings (< 0.5 ha) were more likely to perceive increasing soil fertility while those with larger landholdings (> 2 ha) were more likely to perceive declining fertility. Perceived changes in soil fertility were not related to food self-sufficiency. The reasons for the slow spread of new technologies within wards and the poor understanding of optimal use of chemical fertilizers in conjunction with improved quality FYM may repay further investigation in terms of sustaining soil fertility in this region
Keywords Chemical fertilizer  Farmyard manure  Nepal  Soil fertility  Wealth ranking
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Reprint years 2005
DOI 10.1007/s10460-004-8284-y
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