Subsistence farming still matters in Nepal « Khabarhub

Nepal’s agricultural sector’s contribution to the economy has declined by around 7% over a decade, reaching 24.90% in the financial year 2020/21, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

It is not surprising that around 68% of farmers, among the two-thirds of the population dependent on agriculture, practice subsistence agriculture.

Some studies further indicate that about 60 percent of farmers themselves are unable to meet their own food needs, let alone focus on commercialization of the agricultural sector.

The 2021/22 Economic Survey by the Ministry of Finance indicates that Nepal’s food import figure reached around USD 2.4 billion in 2021 and is expected to increase further.

These depressing figures are a stark reflection of Nepal’s failure to develop agriculture. Under such circumstances, political actors are wary if it can ever rise above the subsistence level. However, agriculture, despite its poor performance, remains a major source of livelihoods and therefore strongly justifies the need to review our approach to overcoming obstacles to the development of agriculture.

In Nepal, people’s participation in agriculture remains very unbalanced in relation to their contribution to the national economy.

As food imports increase year on year, the serious question is: can Nepal still afford to ignore the looming food security crisis?

Despite lower productivity, the intergenerational transfer of land ownership has continued, with traditional agricultural practices dominating various spheres of life in Nepal.

Land remains the most reliable asset for financial security and discussions for the transition of labor to non-agricultural sectors pay little attention to this fact.

Moreover, the transition from an agriculture-based economy forces people to abandon their jobs and reorient themselves by seizing opportunities in non-agricultural sectors.

The risks are high that farmers will find it difficult to integrate into new conditions and prefer to withdraw instead. And the likelihood is high for rural farmers, especially when they have small farms, are old and lack support to train for off-farm jobs.

Similarly, another aspect affected by the transition to the non-agricultural sector is the ability of the market to absorb such labor in entry-level positions.

However, Nepal did not achieve this due to weak growth in its industry and service sector. This has led to an increase in foreign labor migration among unskilled and semi-skilled youth to the Gulf countries.

Despite an increase in remittances, its long-term consequences are detrimental to abandoned farms, increased food imports and opportunities for agricultural development.

Another critical factor is the growing demand for food grains and their level of production within the country which must be considered from the perspective of food security and the national economy.

A study conducted by Kumar et. al in 2019 predicts a 26% increase in demand for rice, wheat and corn by 2035.

A study by Ananta Dahal in 2013 indicates that irrigation projects in Nepal accounted for a 75% increase in farmers’ annual income after access to year-round irrigation.

Meanwhile, government forecasts estimate that rice production will increase by only 14.99% in 2043 compared to 2014/15 level, while wheat and maize yields are expected to increase by 14.38% and 7 % respectively.

As food imports increase year on year, the serious question is: can Nepal still afford to ignore the looming food security crisis?

If so, Nepal is running out of time to implement pragmatic policies aimed at improving the preconditions for agricultural development until it is too late to bridge the gap between production and consumption. request.

Over the years, Nepal’s transformation into a self-reliant agricultural nation has largely been limited to political rhetoric.

Meanwhile, insufficient government intervention and ineffective plans and programs have done little to achieve this. Had the government been able to provide year-round irrigation facilities, supply chemical fertilizers on time and ensure the supply of improved seed varieties, Nepal would have seen an increase in production. of basic foodstuffs.

This has already been proven by a study conducted by Thapa, YB and Pokhrel, A. in 2003 regarding the factors that affect the adoption of improved agricultural practices in Nepal.

The study concluded that the contribution of variety (improved seeds), irrigation and their interaction was 30%, 29% and 41% respectively for the increase in production.

Beyond the chemical fertilizer fiasco, building irrigation canals in a water-rich country appears to be more a matter of political will than technical know-how.

In 2018/19, only 33% of the total irrigable land in Nepal had access to year-round irrigation facilities and government efforts appear insufficient to achieve the 50% coverage target by the fiscal year 2022/23.

Regarding improved seeds, an increase in Research & Development has led to the development of improved varieties of seeds on a national and global scale.

At the end of the day, there are empty stomachs to feed, therefore, farmers and farms will always remain as important as they were before.

However, the issue of accessibility and affordability has always been a pressing issue where farmers often end up growing poor quality low yielding varieties.

These basic infrastructures can enable farmers to practice agriculture all year round, reduce their production costs and increase their production capacity.

A study by Ananta Dahal in 2013 indicates that irrigation projects in Nepal accounted for a 75% increase in farmers’ annual income after access to year-round irrigation.

Such an increase in disposable income can play a central role in retaining existing farmers and encouraging others to adopt scientific farming.

In the wake of the COVID pandemic and the unprecedented events that followed, the distortion of the global supply chain has reexposed the vulnerability of a weaker food production base and revalidated the urgency to revise errors in the area.

The reasons become even stronger when such events have revealed how fragile working class life is due to falling below the poverty line.

Nepal is at a critical juncture to implement policies that promote an enabling agro-ecosystem where farmers with access to basic infrastructure can produce more, sell goods domestically and obtain reasonable prices.

For now, taking practical steps to develop basic infrastructure can retain farmers in the sector with increased incomes and improved lives.

At the end of the day, there are empty stomachs to feed, therefore, farmers and farms will always remain as important as they were before.

(The author is a master’s candidate at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, Germany)

About Keneth T. Graves

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