Surviving the floodHazards of floodwaters could carry into future crop cycles in the absence of proper initiatives
Nepal’s agricultural sector is highly dependent on monsoon rains, but what monsoon gives, monsoon can take away, too. That the floodwaters have wiped out Rs8.11 billion worth of crops and shattered economic growth prospects has made this fact exceedingly clear. Record levels of torrential rainfall have wreaked havoc in 31 districts, mainly in the Tarai region. This disaster hits just as Nepal was regaining footing after the 2015 earthquake, burdened by dual problems of sluggish reconstruction activities and disruption in cross-border trade with India.
Nepal’s economy was sent into a painful tailspin in the fiscal year 2015-16, when growth was restricted to 0.4 per cent. However, in the FY2016-17, the agricultural sector emerged as the torchbearer of growth on the back of a good monsoon, with a contribution of Rs691.2 billion that amounted to around 29 per cent of the GDP in FY2016-17. The World Bank had projected Nepal’s economic growth forecast to be 7.5 percent the last fiscal year due to a big jump in agricultural output, elimination of power cuts and higher government spending. But the recent floods have made it evident that this healthy growth could backslide just as quickly.
The brunt of the recent deluge has been borne by 19 districts in the Tarai region, the proverbial food basket of Nepal. And with agricultural losses in the billions, the Nepali economy could be hard hit. Not only will there be increased pressure on farmer incomes, inflation could also undergo a steep increase. The import bill for agricultural production, already close to reaching the Rs200 billion mark could also rise. Particularly concerning, however, is the damage suffered by the paddy crop, amounting to Rs3.18 billion. In FY2016-17, paddy alone accounted for 20.7 percent of the total agricultural output and was key to the 5.3 percent growth of the farm sector; loss of the crop could hit the economy hard.
Immediate concerns of food scarcity and disease outbreaks may be higher on the list of priorities than agricultural losses right now, but as rains have abated and floodwaters slowly recede, the flood victims will soon begin to rebuild their livelihoods. This will entail dealing with the long-term effects of the floods. Farms have been swept away and sediment deposits could result in a severe decline of soil productivity. The deleterious effects of these flood waters could carry into future crop cycles if initiatives leading to the recovery of the farming sector are not accorded importance.
Encouraging government initiatives such as relief packages in the form of subsidies on seeds, fertilisers and agriculture machinery have been proposed. But this only touches on the problem that the farm sector will have to face; sediment deposits could affect crop productivity for years to come. Coordination is required to come up with large scale efforts to address damage done to the land, and to rebuild and stabilise the soil so production of agriculture can resume.