Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Agriculture Needs Sweeping Reforms

Narayan Prasad Ghimire


For the last couple of weeks, there have been heated debates regarding Nepal government’s decision to allow foreign investment in agriculture. There are obviously differing views on it. At a time when the country's agriculture has not progressed despite considerable amount of investment, the foreign investment is expected to boost the products and create a huge number of jobs thereby propping up national economy, a section of people argues. On the other, some are arguing that foreign investment in agriculture would open door for the multinational companies which would replace the national agriculture and related industries, as they cannot compete with such companies.
Of course, both arguments seem logical. It is, therefore, imperative to make sure that the foreign investment in agriculture will not harm the agricultural sector while bolstering national economy. For long, Nepal has always been in need of huge investment in agriculture, tourism and energy. The national, regional and international forums focussing development and prosperity do not miss these three sectors where investment is sought continuously.

Similarly, the national economy, which has not gained pace as anticipated, largely relies on agriculture. Despite being the mainstay of many Nepalis, the agro-sector is still awaiting mechanisation. It is apparent that Nepal is desperately waiting for modernisation and commercialisation of agriculture and agro-based industries which could help generate jobs for youths who are forced to go abroad for employment. The government’s decision on foreign investment in agriculture must have come with good intention of boosting national economy through improving agriculture. At the same time, grievances associated with it must be addressed on time.
In this connection, Nepal Dairy Association (NDA) on February 3 argued that foreign investment in the agriculture sector was not appropriate for Nepal because it would not only adversely affect farmers but also the nation. It issued a press statement and urged the government to withdraw the decision, arguing that Nepal’s agro-based industries cannot compete with multinational companies. It further asserted that there was an investment of Rs. 4 billion in beekeeping, Rs. 11 billion in fishery, Rs. 30 billion in dairy industries, Rs. 1.2 billion poultry farming and Rs. 3 billion in banana plantation in Nepal. More than 3.5 million farmers and employees have been involved in these sectors, according to NDA.
In such a situation, those showing concern over the government’s decision to bring in investment need to be persuaded why it does not harm small farmers, local productions and agro-based industries. The diversity in national geography must be utilised for utmost agricultural productions. Similarly, promotion of good practices in agriculture and protection of small farmers are other ways to address their concerns.
Although the diversity of climate is regarded as hostility by some sections, it can be taken as a boon for Nepal by unlocking its potential. Different kinds of agricultural farming have been pursued in different climate zone - the paddy plantation, production of mango, banana and litchi fruits in southern belt where there is high temperature, production of wheat and maize and citrus fruits in hilly area with mild temperature, and production of apples and barley in the mountainous region where there is snowfall. The geographical diversity is indeed an advantageous asset to grow varieties of corns, pulse, fruits and vegetables. Dragon fruit production by former minister Lokendra Bista Magar is worth emulating. The dragon fruit is also available in Kathmandu fruit shops. Similarly, kiwi farming and kalij pheasant keeping in different parts of the country are other laudable initiatives.
It is worth mentioning here that many people in the Kathmandu Valley and other cities now prefer to consume 'locally produced things'. Anyone can easily see the signboards, or the marts mentioning 'local kukhura (chicken)', 'local khasi (he-goat)', local dal, oil, vegetable, etc. Similarly, apples from Mustang and Jumla are available in local groceries in Kathmandu and other parts of the country. Chhurpi (hardened cheese) of Dhankuta, honey and mustard from different parts of country are preferred by the consumers.
Similarly, on the eve of Teej festival, baskets of local cucumbers arrive in Kathmandu from Ilam, an eastern hilly district. They obviously are the products within country. Although they cost slightly higher, the mushrooming number of outlets selling locally/nationally produced goods in the city indicate that diverse taste matters most to us and supply system has improved much. The Nepalis earlier bound to eat Kashmiri apples even during festivals can now relish domestic ones.

In addition to laudable points as availability of national produce in city markets with improved supply and expanding road networks, the agriculture sector is in need of sweeping change in Nepal. It requires skilled human resources, continuous skill-based training, easy and timely availability of improved seeds, pesticide, and fertiliser, adoption and promotion of mechanisation, technology and innovative practices.
Likewise, management and proper use of arable land and irrigation facility, respect for labour, guarantee of low-interest loans, immediate implementation of COVID-19 recovery scheme, expansion of already established agro-businesses such as poultry, dairy and apiary; incentives to aspiring farmers, and farming with climate-change adaptation are other imperatives. If these issues are well addressed with the foreign investment in agriculture, the agriculture sector in Nepal would surely make a stride and help realise the national motto of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’.

(Ghimire is a journalist at National News Agency (RSS) and writes on contemporary issues.)