Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Supply Chains To Benefit Farmers

Mukti Rijal

THE statistics disclosed in a weekly, the other day, make a sad commentary on the state of affairs in agriculture sector of the country. As we go on making tall claims on the merit of the policies articulated to improve the agriculture sector, we find ourselves inextricably trapped in the vicious circle of import dependency from across the order. The statistics reveal that we import perishable green vegetable and fruits worth billions of rupees from across the border. According to a report, we not only import vegetable from India but from China and Bhutan as well. Bhutan has emerged as one of the suppliers of potato which indicates our growing dependency in multiple diversified sources. Bhutan, a small landlocked country with difficult mountain terrain like Nepal, has surpassed us even in agriculture productivity not to talk of hydropower development, education and tourism. It testifies how badly we have declined in the sector in which we had enjoyed comparative advantage in the past.
Reports do confirm that the lockdown has increased our dependency further on the imported farm produces from across the border. Thousands of trucks carrying vegetables and fruits cross our border without any proper scrutiny while human movement across the border has been forcefully, if not mercilessly, halted for presumptuous fear coronavirus infection. According to a report, agriculture produce mainly vegetable worth over fifty million rupees has been imported from across the border in Nepalgunj during the lockdown period alone whereas the fresh and green vegetable produced by farmers in Banke has gone totally waste due to rupture in the supply chains due to halt in the transportation.
Farmers have been compelled to destroy and dump a larger quantity of tomatoes, cabbages, cucumber, watermelons and many other varieties of fresh vegetables whereas the people living nearby the market have to consume and live off the imported vegetable from across the border. This is not the case of Banke alone but this applies in almost all the districts in the country. News reports coming from Jhapa throw light on how the green vegetable have been woefully used as feeds for the cattle, and acres of the vegetable orchards have been reduced into the grazing field for cows and buffaloes for l ack of supply chain to the market. Moreover, the woes of the farmers in Makawanpur, Kavre, Dhading and Lalitpur are equally painful and touching. The farmers in these districts who used at least to negotiate and manage to supply their products into the market places through intermediaries and brokers, among others, have found themselves deprived of the value chain even through it was not fair to them.
But the vegetable coming from across the border find uninterrupted access to the Nepali market. Though the government has pronounced time and again that the vehicles and carriers meant for transporting and supplying vegetable are exempted from the lockdown restrictions but in practice this has not worked effectively. This presents a paradoxical state of our situation. While we have plenty of vegetable produce to meet larger share of our domestic needs and demands, we have to depend upon the stale vegetable coming from distant locations across the border which are reportedly sown and grown using disproportionate quantum of chemical fertiliser and insecticides inimical to human health.
According to reports, the quarantine facilities that are set up at the borders are so lax, unworkable and ineffective that the authorities responsible to implement measures for sanitisation and maintenance of the quality of vegetable produces shipped from India allegedly allow passing without subjecting to any quarantining process. Media reports emanating from border disclose that the authorities responsible for carrying out and enforcing quarantine standards work in collusion with contractors and vendors to allow vegetables consignment of the inferior quality slip into the interior part of the country. In the same way, quarantine standards are not allegedly enforced in the vegetable market places inside the country especially for the vegetables coming from India.
But produces collected and brought from the rural areas of the country itself are reportedly subjected to unnecessary hassles and scrutiny. This at the end allows greater competitive access and advantage to the produces coming from across the border. It is alleged that a nexus of contractors, government officials and unscrupulous traders conspires and operates to ensure that the vegetable produces imported from across the border slip easily into the Nepali market to the detriment of the locally produced and harvested vegetable produces in the country.
The irony of the matter discussed above cannot be changed in the chaotic institutional and organisational environment that exists today. This is the reality to reflect the deterioration of the situation not only during COVID-19 but a recurring phenomenon. The reality for the Nepali farmers has always remained unchanged despite political changes accompanied with juicy policy promises and commitments of the government. The situation can be improved only through the carefully studied, active intervention and support of the government. In the country like Nepal where the agriculture is the mainstay of the people’s livelihood and contributes significantly to the national income, attempts should be made to create reliable supply chain from each ward, if not settlement (Basti), of the local government( Gaupalika and Nagarpalika) where local farmers can sell their surplus vegetable produce with remunerative prices.
When the sale of their surplus vegetable produce is guaranteed at the local level, farmers will have positive motivation and incentives to produce more and sell in their respective neighbourhood. The local governments should be facilitated to create and maintain value chain linkage, cold storage facilities for which they can cooperate with guilds of vegetable wholesalers and other stakeholders. When farmers are assured of the prices of their produce they will be motivated to produce more and meet the needs and demand in the country.