Is Nepal really an agricultural country?

Earlier this week, a news story popped up in our national dailies that said that at a village in Bajura, local farmers had to feed their apples to cattle owing to lack of proper transportation and market for their otherwise lucrative product. This news, on the face of Kathmandu-based rhetoric of agricultural modernization and the so called Prime Minister Agricultural Modernization Program initiated by the earlier government, shows the real situation of our agricultural status. It shows how apathetic our leadership and policy-makers are when it comes to being accountable for our agricultural development.

While the whole world is pacing towards new innovations for sustainable living, there has been a constant downfall of Nepali Agro based industries in last few decades, whereas the demand of food has increased by almost double-fold. At the time when our neighboring nations are profiteering from higher agricultural achievements in laboratories and in fields, we are not even being able to produce enough food for ourselves, let alone exporting. Given the national workforce (more than 65%) that toils in agricultural sector, production is in a pitiful, derogative condition. Governmental investment for agriculture every year almost reserves around 30% of the total budget, but when it comes to substantial results, we are doomed.

In 2011 only, statistics show that India had 14% GDP contribution from industries and Bangladesh had 17% while for Nepal it was just 7%. This figure, instead of growing towards double digit, has been shrinking more and more with each year we pass. This is a result of a prolonged transitive mindset that our political leadership wants to perpetuate for the interest of their benefits while it mars the national development. This is what happens when a nation fails to produce, when we don’t have industries that link up to thefarms and communities.

We teach our school-children that Nepal is a nation based on agriculture, but they’re innocent of the reality of our agricultural scenario. In Nepal, we have a notion of taking things for granted, we believe what we’re told to believe. We’ve been taught to believe that we are an agricultural nation, and we swallowed that with ease. But let’s see the flip side. Here are a few agriculture related industries that the national governance system has failed to maintain and promote, and hence been closed/degraded:

lady in farm

 

 Jute mills: Few decades earlier, Jute Development Board had been established that had aimed to do research on seeds, research and technology transfer and product refinement, but the subsequent governments failed to maintain that resolve, and we all now know that there is no scope now for Jute farmers, and the industries that once known all over south Asia have now ended up as ruins.

Textiles and cotton industry was also initially established with Chinese support; and it had boosted the cotton production across Nepal. But the so called leaders, instead of lobbying for modernization and technology development, of ne Cotton Development Board, and now there are hardly any cotton industries in Nepal.

Agricultural Tools Industry was opened in Birgunj with the help of the then USSR. But owing to lack of commitment from our leadership, it was closed within ashort span of few decades.

Janakpur Cigaratte Factory was once the pride of Nepal. It was a source of employment for thousands of Nepali. But sadly, Tobacco Development Board that once dreamed of connecting farmers with industry is now dysfunct, thanks to our so called leaders of new Nepal!

Birgunj Sugar Mill too has suffered a similar fate. At present, we hear news of farmers protesting about the low payback for their sugarcanes, as they are compelled to sell their raw materials to the Sugar mills across the border.

All of these instances are few epitomes of the downfall of our agricultural and industrial efficiency. Many other sectors, like Trolley Bus in the Kathmandu Valley and the Hetauda-Kathmandu ropeway, have also undergone relatable extinction. If we are to march towards prosperity as a nation, such myopic interventions from the governmental agencies should be avoided at any cost.

The real problems revolve around the tragic fact that policies have never benefited the beneficiaries. Because of the outright corruption and political division, the allocated money never reaches the actual communities in need. There are a lot of I/NGO’s that are supposedly working on issues of farmer empowerment, crop protection and development, but none seem to have an effective impact in our agricultural systems.   As a result, in spite of ample production, we are not being able to sell our products to the market. Isn’t it strange that we import almost everything we eat – from rice to wheat to grams to packed foods – while our fresh apples rot to the earth owing to the lack of proper marketing and transportation?

Farming

 

This paradox revolves around the popular, sometimes highly revered conception of pseudo-modern Nepali society that finds land owning quite attractive whereas farming is often loathed. Such a deep-rooted false perception can’t be eliminated overnight, but it is possible if new scientific and profitable approaches are adopted for agriculture and farming. There is an ample space for agricultural entrepreneurship, especially in cities like Kathmandu where civilians are willing to pay rather a higher price if they’re guaranteed with healthy organic foods. For this to happen, newer technologies need to be adopted for producing our food. From vegetables to cereals, fruits and staple diets, it is possible to multiply the yield if we apply latest scientific findings to our fields. Also, we still lack a proper marketing and advertisement of our products. The apples that are being wasted could be very potent raw material for a wine company, but we are failing to develop a strong link between farmers and industries. Transportation is a basic factor when it comes to production and market reach. Sadly, as of now, if we don’t plan and act strategically, our apples seem to be bound to suffer similar fate in years to come. For this, a complete sense of responsibility needs to be planted into the hearts of bureaucrats and policy-makers such that they realize the real woes of our citizens, especially in the remote villages and hills.

Recently, we’ve heard a lot that Nepal has become independent on poultry farming. While somebureaucrats and leaders brag over this so called achievement, the normal public is always unaware to the fact that a large portion of poultry-feed is still imported from India. Saying that we’re independent in such a pretext is nothing more than a shallow, facile attempt of deceiving the economically marginalized communities of this nation. Rather than selling false pride, government needs to focus on developing programs that empower local farmers for scientific and sustainable methods of farming. Rather than clinging to the subsistence-oriented and traditional farming, training should be provided to the farmers for introducing new and effective methods of production and farming.

Political leadership is completely aware, yet unwilling to address the real concerns. It doesn’t have time to envision the future and come up with strategic planning to tackle the food insecurity, agricultural decline and its impacts on public health. This being said, we should not undermine that few agro ventures have been successfully running in this last few years. Even without any visible support from the governmental agencies, youths in different parts of Nepal have started setting up farms, dairy industries, organic fertilizers production and other similar small to medium scale businesses. From ostrich farm to organic vegetable farms, people have slowly started seeing agriculture as a respectable and profitable occupation. It’s a silver lining that may be we’re now ready for a paradigm shift, a drift from the social conditioning that trains us to see working at farms as some low profile job.

 

this article was originally published in Kaagmandu Magazine

*All rights reserved by the author.

Author: Subash Chapagain

Photo Credit: Rishav Adhikari