Shrinking paddy fields raise food deficit fearsNepal’s paddy fields have been disappearing fast due to the spread of horticulture, urbanization, climate stress and manpower shortage, raising concerns about a possible food deficit.
Nepal’s paddy fields have been disappearing fast due to the spread of horticulture, urbanization, climate stress and manpower shortage, raising concerns about a possible food deficit.
According to the Ministry of Agricultural Development, the land under paddy cultivation has shrunk 11 percent to 1.37 million hectares within a span of five years.
Nepal has lost 168,585 hectares of paddy fields since 2011-12 that could have produced more than 500,000 tonnes of paddy annually based on the national productivity rate of 3 tonnes per hectare.
Nepal had 1.56 million hectares of paddy fields in 2000-01, which shrank to 1.54 million hectares in 2005-06. They further shrank to 1.49 million hectares in 2010-11. By 2015-16, the country’s paddy fields had been reduced to 1.36 million hectares.
The rate of decline surged after 2006 when the country saw a real estate boom that led to negative effects of urban sprawl, including haphazard farmland conversion.
“There is no doubt that haphazard development of farmland into building plots destroyed large swathes of arable land. However, this was not only the sole reason. Paddy fields have remained uncultivated because of lack of irrigation, low yield and shortage of farm hands,” said Yubak Dhoj GC, director general of the Department of Agriculture.
“Given the current scenario, we cannot increase the area under cultivation, but we have a number of options to increase output.”
According to GC, the output of rice, which is a major staple food and the mainstay for the rural population, could be increased or doubled by boosting the use of hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers.
“Currently, we are applying improved varieties of seeds that have an average yield of 3 tonnes per hectare. If we apply hybrid varieties, the yield can be doubled.”
However, hybrid varieties require more chemical fertilizers and irrigation. Currently, chemical fertilizer use in Nepal stands at 75 kg per hectare.
Nepali farmers are using more than twice as much chemical fertilisers as they were doing four years ago, but consumption is still very small compared to neighbouring countries. The low use of this critical agro input has been cited as the key reason behind Nepal’s having the lowest farm productivity in South Asia.
According to Economic Survey 2014-15, Nepal’s chemical fertilizer use jumped sharply to 75.11 kg per hectare in 2013-14, up from 57.25 kg in 2012-13. In 2010-11, consumption of chemical fertilizers was 35.59 kg per hectare, which jumped to 46.84 kg in 2012-13.
Nepal is far behind neighbours India, Bangladesh and China in the intensity of fertiliser use. Chemical fertiliser consumption in China stands at more than 400 kg per hectare, while in Bangladesh it is 200 kg and in India 150 kg.
Likewise, round-the-year irrigation coverage needs to be expanded to support the shift to hybrid varieties.
Focusing on spring paddy (Chaitee dhan) is also an option to increase the output. “Due to high solar intensity, paddy cultivated during the spring season has better productivity compared to the summer crop,” said GC.
A manpower shortage in the Tarai could be another major reason why paddy farming is being abandoned. To tackle the scarcity of labour, farm mechanization has become the need of the hour, he said.
“We are exploring every possibility to increase the output. The Finance Ministry has also assured us that it will invest in farm mechanisation and short- and long-term irrigation projects,” GC said.
There is a rising trend of using arable land to grow crops which yield higher returns in a short time compared to paddy. A 10.22 percent fall in the paddy output brought the total production of this fiscal year to the level of 2005-06.
PADDY AREA AND OUTPUT COMPARED
Year Area Output
(in hectare) (in tonnes)
2015-16 1.36m 4.29m
2014-15 1.42m 4.78m
2013-14 1.48m 5.04m
2012-13 1.42m 4.50m
2011-12 1.53m 5.07m
(Source: Ministry of Agricultural Development)