Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Attracting Nepali Labour Migrants To Agriculture

Kushal Pokharel


DISASTROUS effect of the coronavirus on social and economic fronts can hardly be exaggerated. With the entire world coming to a standstill, what will be the new normal after corona world remains elusive though some indications are apparent. Social distancing will be the new norm promoting the culture of remote work environment, online learning and elimination of any activities that involve mass gathering. Painting a bleak scenario of the global world of work, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said that the pandemic is likely to trigger roughly 195 million job losses. Among the most vulnerable sectors include accommodation and food services, manufacturing, retail and business including administrative activities. The staggering number of job cuts globally- 5 million jobs in Arab countries, 12 million in Europe and 125 million in Asia and the Pacific further indicates the gravity of the situation.
Amid looming global crisis, many Nepali labour migrants are likely to return home. News of about 1.4 million Nepalis living abroad willing to come back to the country has recently appeared. While this will hit the remittance economy that has been contributing almost a quarter of Nepal’s GDP hard, a silver lining in black cloud appears. No better time than this will ever arrive in the country to pursue a pragmatic policy for enhancing the productive sectors of the economy. Leveraging multitude of skills and knowledge that the migrants bring in will be instrumental to transform the economy. Amid the likely scenario of shrinking tourism and hospitality sector in the aftermath of the pandemics for a year or so, focusing on other productive sectors will be crucial. Even manufacturing industries and service sector will find it extremely difficult to bounce back. Since the global business scenario also looks bleak, the flow of foreign direct investment will definitely be slow. Balance of payments will be further impeded. In this scenario, ADB’s recent projection of Nepal’s economic growth is equally distressing. Given this situation, agriculture could be a key productive sector that can come to the rescue of our economy.
Nepali agriculture which is still predominantly subsistence based, is in need of a major overhaul. Commericialisation of agriculture will not only be important for improving the livelihoods of those working in the field but also to boost economic growth. Tapping the labour migrants potential in agriculture will steer national transformation. In this regard, agriculture should be established as a dignified profession. Facilitating and attracting the agrarian communities through targeted programs with necessary financial and technical support will serve better. Moreover, simplification of the loan facilities, state ownership and protection for the agriculture products, among others, will also attract more people in agriculture. The need of keeping the agriculture inputs and supply chain intact should not be ignored.
Nepal can take this as an opportunity to become self-reliant on agriculture. With imports from neighbouring India likely to dwindle considerably given the worsening situation there, Nepal will have no option but to intensify agriculture within the country. In the absence of this, a crisis fuelled by hunger and starvation looms large. With the Minister for Agriculture already hinting at the worrisome scenario of a potential food security crisis if urgent actions are not taken in time, the picture of the near future looks worrisome. Hence, the minister has directed the local governments to formulate appropriate policies to cope with this situation before it goes out of control.
Nepal has recently witnessed slow but steady interest of youths towards agro-entrepreneurship. In the post corona period, promoting this sector will reap rich dividends. Policy of motivating young entrepreneurs including the returnee migrants will pave a way for expanding various enterprises. Nepal can create an enabling policy environment to pursue the same.
The road ahead seems to be pretty challenging. First, it will be important to make provisions of seeds and fertilisers for continuing agriculture. Since most of the agricultural inputs come from neighbouring India, provisioning inputs to keep the agricultural activities afloat will require some critical policy intervention. Second, disruptions in supply chain with the high-handedness of middlemen can pose obstacles. Third, keeping the entrepreneurial motivation firm requires the nation to offer some unprecedented loan and business facilities for a volatile young population.
Indeed, the nation will require out of the box approach to deal with the unprecedented crisis in the history of humanity. While there is a historic opportunity to turn this adversity into advantage, any lapses in handling the situation will invite grave consequences for several years, further reeling the nation under crisis. Policymakers need to find a new way of doing business in the changed circumstances. Strategic visioning will definitely come handy.

(Pokharel is a social science faculty and a researcher.