Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Why Small Farmers Are Failing

Binaya Ghimire

Nepal’s farming community is mostly comprised of small farmers. They possess small holdings, with their entire family members toiling on the farm. Nepal is yet to see industrial scale farming though it employs around 65 per cent of population. The agriculture is the second largest contributor to the GDP but the country always suffers from food shortage. Small farmers do not get required incentives from the state. As a result, the country does not produce the desired amount of grains, let alone the surplus one.

Bank loan
Small farmers are not in a position to invest heavily in the agriculture sector. They have to rely on bank loan for the investment. Farmers hesitate to invest the loan in boosting their production owing to various uncertainties besetting the sector. Businesses fail when they have too much debt. There is not proper irrigation facility so the framers have to depend on rain. The situation becomes worse when they fail to get fertilisers in time. Their products have to compete with cheap produce from India. Nepali farmers are mostly unable to pay back their loan. Even though small farmers may want to start farming with a good deal of capital, they do not see good prospect in it. Such a venture is likely to go bankrupt with one mistake.
Even the small farmers want to buy a new tractor or set up a greenhouse but they fear whether they could pay back the loan. Even if they get loan, there is no guarantee that they will be able earn money by investing the loan in the farming. The Nepali farmers are compelled to keep their expenses to the barest minimum until they know where to spend their money. A large portion of Nepali farmers are involved in the sector because that’s their family occupation passed down from their ancestors. However, in the recent times, there are also many people wanting to move into farming and start a small farm to sell their produce at a local market. Most of these people are attracted to farming not because of they have expertise but because they see farming as a lucrative occupation for food prices are always soaring up.
However, in the absence of proper knowledge and skill, their undertaking falls through. The younger generation should be lured to farming, but the state has to provide them training and technical knowledge. The new farmers themselves have to gain experience by working in the fields of other farmers as volunteers or apprentices. Practical learning will give them necessary ideas and experience which they cannot gain from reading books and surfing the internet.
The Nepali farmers have to learn the practical way before they jump into the agriculture occupation. After gaining actual experience as an apprentice or volunteer, the farmers can start planning and find which produce has potential to fetch a good amount of profit. Many enthusiastic persons or those engaged in the agro sector become frustrated when their crops are destroyed by hailstone, heavy rains and floods. In such circumstances, the small farmers do not have resources to recoup the loss. They lose zeal to continue farming. They begin to abandon farming as they do not get any help the state and motivation from the community. While state seems to be indifferent to the plight of small farmers, the society in general sees farming as the occupation of the illiterate masses.
There are things that people cannot do alone and they need help. But irony is that they cannot ask for help owing to their own self-pride. They refuse to seek advice from the experts and even their farmer friends. Like in other profession, farming also requires skills, knowledge, resources and technological support. The farmers need to update their knowledge and must not nurture the notion that they should have bumper harvest and profit in first go. They need to learn from other farmers, experts, technicians and even newbies.

Commercial venture
Many Nepali farmers do not consider farming a commercial venture. Some get involved in it only in their spare time. When people are asked to choose between the job of a peon (low-ranking worker) and farmer, many tend to go for former. This is mistaken approach and backward attitude. They should invest in it with a view to commercialise it. Farming is just like any other business. Instead of earning money to buy consumer items, farmers are actually manufacturing produce. Thus, Nepali farmers need to treat their farm as a dignified enterprise. Farming is a business. As a business, they need to keep records of all activities including the money spent and the money received.

(A freelance writer, Ghimire writes for print media and web platforms.