Tea and empathyNepal’s tea industry is under pressure due to the unavailability of fertilisers.
Chemical fertiliser shortages have been a constant source of worry for Nepali farmers. Of late, the scarcity has profoundly affected the tea industry. Nepal’s Rs5 billion tea industry, one of the country’s key foreign exchange earners, is currently under pressure due to the unavailability of chemical fertilisers. The issue of fertiliser shortage isn’t new to Nepali farmers, but this year a global shortage of the plant nutrients and the dawdling steps taken by the authorities to address the need has precipitated a crisis in a sector that has in the past managed to make a mark on the world stage.
The agricultural sector, in general, remains heavily subsidised, which is designed primarily to help small and marginal farmers become self-reliant. The government has decided to remove subsidies for tea planters. Despite their contribution to generating revenue for the state and playing significant roles in rural employment, the tea industry, like many other businesses affected by unfavourable government policies, is being hung out to dry. The concerns of the tea producers are valid and a testament to the authorities’ ineptitude.
With various incentives being withdrawn, the tea producers in Nepal who face stiff competition from their Indian counterparts have an even bigger problem confronting them—the unavailability of fertilisers. The acute shortage of fertilisers, despite favourable weather conditions, will undoubtedly impact the production and quality of the tea. And this, in turn, will have a cascading effect on the lives of the rural people who depend on the few thriving industries in Nepal. These unsupportive practices on the part of our authorities have pushed tea producers to switch to other crops, which usually comes at a substantial financial burden for the planters and workers alike.
If the government’s concern is addressing the problem of depleting foreign exchange reserves and controlling imports, such measures need to be reflected in its policies. With a looming food crisis precipitated by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the unrelenting waves of the pandemic, there is a need for more caution than ever. We are not in a position to undo the mistakes of the past in one fell swoop, but what we can do is support our existing industries that remain a lifeline for the multitudes that depend on them.
Disability within established sectors should not be provoked at any cost. Nepal is already losing much of its working population to the growing economic demands of other nations. Instead, Nepal needs a conducive environment that will attract financial investment and people. And there could be no better place to start than what we consider our mainstay—agriculture.