Thursday, 25 April, 2024

Ensuring Food Security

Prem Khatry


There are not only two aspects of the same issue but also two sides of the same coin raised in this write-up for discussion. In both the cases, expected government commitment and undesired inefficiency is in question, if not on the dock. In any other country except our own, the issue could have been a hot issue for the government to face severe criticism in the parliament or on the street. In Nepal that doesn’t happen all the time. The opposition opens its mouth when the issue in question is partisan, not general. In the latest bout of argument, the Khajura is in debate in the House and out. But who listens to the voice of the voiceless?

This is a Nepali proverb, meaning hungry stomach can commit a crime. Not always, though. A commonplace knowledge is that food is life and stomach is the first qualified recipient of the process that biologically sustains 'life'. For those whose job is to produce and deliver food in a given way, the service is also life. Delivering food such as rice to remote dwellers has always been a herculean task for our government employees stationed there where stores remain empty most of the time.
In the first very sensitive news of the week, the poor and helpless women of Bajura are in picture. They walk days to reach the Nepal Food Corporation storage for a few kilo of rice. Considering that the district, like many other sisters in the Sudur and Madhya Paschim (Far and mid-west) regions is always facing food crisis, the office doesn’t issue notices about the state-of-the- art of its store. Couldn’t it be done through social network? Mobiles, for example or, for that matter, from mouth to mouth mechanism? Or, as is normally the case in the region, using traditional 'dhol' andother tools through the 'dhol player' caste or other news carriers messaging that there is food shortage for distribution at the moment, therefore people must not travel to the headquarters for X number of days.
In this case that didn’t happen. This is one glaring example of how we are ignoring the traditional, very effective means of communication and making the poor people suffer. The ladies in picture of a daily newspaper are seen carrying a baby as there was no caretaker in the house. This is how our village society in the remote area works. Women must manage the house. The 'No Rice' sign posted on the wall of the storehouse turned them pale. Their gloomy faces are printed in the newspaper the other day made the headline.
In this news, the face of the government agency, not the poor and suffering customer, should turn pale out of shame and inefficiency syndrome. The need is: let us run sensitisation programme for the government officials in highly sensitive areas. If our staff are not sensitive enough to deal with the situation, what good are they for? This is the time when agriculturally inefficient regions suffer the most. Take Mugu, Dolpa, Humla, Jumla, Kalikot, Bajura, for example. You name the problem, you have them all. By the time, these women reach home almost empty handed, the rice will arrive, according to the official. Then festivals begin and the poor will show up again with hopes rising high. One can only pray they celebrate the festival with some rice.
There is no plan to work on the option as far as food is concerned. Why long grain rice and not other items? The answer is 'the lack of awareness.' The writer remembers an incident that took place in Punjab a few years ago. The Chief Minister of Punjab Badal was asking the experts attending an international seminar in his State to develop such a variety of maize corn that could be considered the staple food of the State. Indeed, Punjab grows food for India, not just for the State. With a bit more experiment, corn could be established as 'the staple food,' he had said.
Why can't we assign such tasks to our experts and scientists so our topography meets the kind of food that can fight starvation. Long grain rice is not the ultimate solution for the poor and remote dwellers. Going for long rice is an old habit that doesn’t die easily. These areas can grow a variety of items such as apples. Their climate condition can help them store this excellent food and use in crisis of supply of other items. Or is it a wild argument? The writer is not aware himself. We only hear and read, the cows take apple breakfast during the heyday of apple production. Nobody knows exactly when the national pride item, the north-south highway, will reach such remote regions and solve a host of problem faced the people now.
Meanwhile, the district of Udayapur has called the attention of the nation. This writer's source in such cases is the Image FM 97 where regional and district correspondents speak to the channel centre and inform the public about the latest development in their areas or regions. The hosts – Surajbeer Bajracharya and Binod KC do the anchoring from the channel and meet the correspondents to air the programme twice daily.

The news, also related to food and potential scarcity in the days ahead came from Udaypur district. First, the district faced series of problems this season – landslides in the Chure hills filling in the farm with mud. Then drought, then other natural calamities like flood. And now when rice plantation completed, there is no fertiliser available. This item was much sought after by the farmers during the expected time – within two months of plantation. But this year, that is not happening. Traffickers bring the low quality items illegally and sell.

(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues)