The development of the agriculture sector can be instrumental in dealing with the country’s rampant poverty and unemployment problem. Prime Minister Bhattarai has said that the government would increase the agriculture budget twofold to ensure food security. When industrialisation is a far cry, investing in agriculture is a positive sign for an ailing economy. Hydropower development and tourism promotion were always on the card, but now agriculture has also been included.
A recent report released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is very encouraging. The report states that the production of meat went up by 11 per cent in 2010/11 compared to the previous year. The report also cautions that despite the annual rise, Nepal is still highly dependent on meat imports. According to rough estimates, Nepal imports meat worth Rs. 15 billion every year.
Share of agriculture
Livestock farming and crop cultivation actually go hand in hand. One is always complimenting the other. Agriculture is so much ingrained in the lives of the common people that it determines the general well-being of 25 million Nepalis. Agriculture contributes approximately 40 per cent of the gross domestic product, of which rice alone bears 24 per cent of the agro-output.
Livestock is an important aspect of the agrarian economy. Cattle are not only raised for meat and milk but also for organic manure. The recent rise in meat production is attributed to the increase in commercial livestock farming prompted due to soaring demands in the domestic market. In the urban areas, demand for meat and milk is high. Since the government has implemented a focussed programme on livestock farming, and many non-governmental organisations are working in tandem with the farmers, livestock farming has taken heartening leaps.
Lack of technical knowledge, unavailability of modern agricultural tools, improved seeds and fertilisers are some of the problems farmers face in Nepal. The agriculture sector needs rapid transformation, and it is heartening that the government has given priority to commercialisation and mechanisation. The government has provided subsidy on loans for livestock and crop farming. After a halt of 10 years, the government has again started giving subsidies on chemical fertilisers. Farmers need assistance to increase food production, people suffering from food shortages need immediate relief, and emphasis must be given to irrigation projects.
Every year agricultural land in Nepal goes on shrinking due to encroachment for housing projects and extension of towns and cities. Sometime ago, the Nepal government redefined the existing land classification system in terms of land use. It has categorised land into agricultural, industrial, forestry, commercial, residential and public.
For a long time, it was felt, arable land should be protected for boosting production and food security. A rough estimate says about 2,357,000 hectares of land in Nepal are arable, which is 16.48 per cent of the total land. Very large parts of land in Nepal go barren for lack of irrigation facilities.
The government has put its effort on modernisation and commercialisation of the agriculture sector. Mechanisation of the agriculture sector will be a costly affair. Fuel prices are high, and in Nepal it is scanty. In such a situation, how viable power tillers, tractors and other agriculture machineries are is a big question.
In the 1980s, agriculture was the main source of livelihood for about 90 per cent of the Nepali people, and contributed about 60 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and 75 per cent of exports. However, at present, the agriculture sector contributes less than 40 per cent to the GDP, while about 60 per cent of the total population is still involved in agriculture.
In many countries, the state has put all its efforts at promoting commercially viable crops like soya and rubber. Cash crops are rather successful, but in the long run it will have adverse effects, giving rise to food shortages. Vegetables fetch good price, so in some African countries farmers have abandoned the farming of rice and wheat. Now, years later, people have only cabbage to eat for their meals. In South America, soya and rubber plantations have attacked the world’s largest rain forest, the Amazon basin. Nepal cannot afford such a policy.
Nepal does not produce chemical fertiliser and lots of money goes into its imports. Why not give emphasis to organic fertiliser, or promote animal husbandry and farming at the same time? People are using the same tools and the same methods of farming that have been handed down through the centuries. How about training farmers? Nepali scientists themselves are developing rice, wheat and maize with better yield. Nevertheless, the farmers sow the same variety of seeds that have been in use for decades.
After years of effort, India has learnt a lesson on poverty reduction. It is better to build roads and connect villages with highways and towns than provide subsidy on agriculture loans. Providing electricity and drinking water is more effective in poverty reduction than providing relief packages. Vocational training is good, but there has to be employment opportunities. Skills are useless if there is no work.
Hydropower plants, tourism and agriculture, these three are vital sectors that will certainly yank up Nepal. However, it will remain only a dream until some concrete measures are taken. Since agriculture covers a large chunk of the country’ economy and the highest number of people are engaged in peasantry, it demands more attention.
Once Nepal was a food exporting nation, but these days Nepal is forced to import food. One of the reasons behind this is the imbalance in population growth and food production. And Nepal, an agricultural country, can certainly leave a mark on food production if due importance is given.