Nepal is an agrarian country. Over 65 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture and related activities. About thirty per cent of the total land is used for agricultural purposes. But the contribution of the agriculture sector to the country’s gross domestic product is about 35 per cent only.
Divided into three geographical regions, the mountains, hills and Terai and endowed with favourable agro-climatic conditions, the country is rich in agro-biodiversity. Rice, maize, millet, wheat, barley, buckwheat, etc. are the major food crops in the country. The major cash crops include oilseed crops, potatoes, tobacco, sugarcane, jute, cotton, etc. Likewise, lentils, gram, pigeon pea, black gram, horse gram, soya beans, etc. are the major pulse crops. The country is famous for orthodox tea, large cardamom, turmeric, ginger, etc.
Food shortage Despite having potential for boosting agricultural production and productivity, the country lags far behind in agricultural development. Many households, particularly those living in the mountains, suffer four to nine months of food shortages a year. People living in remote areas are dependent on the food transported from elsewhere. This is a matter of shame for the country which was once an exporter of agricultural products.
In the past, over ninety per cent of the population was involved in agriculture. Many farmers have since shifted to other occupations owing perhaps to various problems in agriculture. Another reason is the migration of people from rural areas to urban areas. As the successive governments have not prioritised rural development, the people living there tend to leave their districts. Some go to the urban areas like Kathmandu and some go abroad for foreign employment. It is estimated that more than half of all households have a family member who has migrated to an urban area or a foreign country to do work to support their family.
The rural areas are now left mostly with women, children and the elderly, with women having to shoulder the double responsibility: household and farm management. In most cases, agriculture is not practised because there is as shortage of manpower. The energetic youths are out of the rural areas and the farms there are left barren out of compulsion.
As per the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), over fifty per cent of the districts of the country are food-deficient. Low agricultural production is attributed to subsistence farming, poor and atavistic technology, lack of irrigation facilities, mismanagement of fertilisers and improved seeds, erratic weather and suchlike factors.
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy of the country. When it comes to agriculture, it is a mix of crop and livestock farming. As various crops are cultivated based on the geography and ecology, so livestock farming is also carried on. In the mountains, yaks, chauri gais, chyangras (mountain goats), etc. are reared. Various animals like sheep, goats, cows, pigs and buffaloes are reared in the hills and the Terai.
Around eighty per cent of the poor live in the rural areas. The successive governments are obsessed by the Kathmandu-centric development model, leaving the rural areas high and dry. The rural areas are beset by a plethora of problems. That women in labour pain have to be airlifted to Kathmandu or other city areas speaks volumes about the pathetic condition the rural areas are in. Agriculture and livestock development is one of the key areas where the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) are interested. The country receives aid from these and other agencies for agriculture development. But the results are not copacetic. It is alleged that the people with political connections benefit from such aid at the cost of genuine farmers who badly need such assistance.
The successive governments also launch agriculture development plans from time to time. But such plans are not implemented in earnest. Now, the Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) is being implemented in the country. The ADS is a twenty-year national sectoral strategy (2015 to 2035). The strategy includes five objectives: increasing food and nutrition security, alleviating poverty, increasing competitiveness, increasing incomes of rural households equitably and strengthening farmers’ rights.
In recent times, there is a discourse on reducing the trade deficit. That imports preponderate over exports by a very large margin has left the government startled. When it comes to the agriculture sector, the country imports machinery and equipment, fertilisers, seeds, fruit and agricultural products. Even agricultural products that can be grown here are imported in large amounts.
The land of the country is conducive to agriculture. The quality of agricultural products is superior to that of those imported from abroad. Instead of preserving agricultural land, there is a tendency of fragmenting such land. And the so-called land mafia is active in plotting out such land for residential purposes for monetary benefits. Some farmers also suffer at the hands of buyers. The plight of sugarcane farmers is there for all to see. Moreover, middlemen reap more benefit than the farmers who spend time, money and hard work in growing agricultural products.
Access to inputs The government should provide necessary agricultural inputs such as fertilisers and improved seeds for the farmers in time. There is a shortage of such inputs, especially fertilisers, in the plantation season. On the other hand, the government has not been able to make adequate arrangements for irrigation facilities, either. As such, the farmers are not happy with the government.
To boost agricultural production and productivity, the government should be serious about improving the agriculture sector. It should implement agricultural plans such as the ADS in earnest. It should also utilise the aid received from donor agencies. It is high time the past glory of the country as an agrarian country was restored.
(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. email@example.com)