Nepali farmers gather bumper paddy harvest of 5.55 million tonnesExperts say the government might have manipulated the data to show it is on track to achieve its ambitious 8.5 percent growth target.
Nepali farmers gathered the second largest paddy harvest in history this fiscal year, despite a series of misfortunes ranging from a delayed monsoon, fertiliser shortage and supply of fake seeds to an armyworm invasion, officials said.
As per the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, paddy output totalled 5.55 million tonnes, only 1.1 percent less than last year's record harvest.
The Agriculture Ministry released the figures on Friday, almost a month later than usual; and attributed the better-then-expected yield to increased productivity which stood at 3.8 tonnes per hectare.
But some experts are not convinced by the government's statistics.
“If production has increased despite all the problems reported, it’s a miracle,” said Satya Narayan Mandal, a retired soil scientist. In Province 2, the ministry's statistics show that productivity increased to 3.76 tonnes per hectare, and that’s improbable.
“Soil health in Province 2 is very poor; and this fiscal year, there was a glaring shortage of chemical fertiliser during the peak paddy planting period. How can we be convinced by the ministry’s data?” he said.
“Besides, the monsoon was not good enough; and irrigation facilities are poor in Nepal, including in Province 2, to support higher growth. There should be some logic to substantiate the growth in productivity. It’s not real. No one will believe this.”
Paddy expert Bhola Man Singh Basnet said he was surprised by this year's production data. “We had estimated that the paddy crop could drop by at least 8 percent. The data is collected by the government, and we have to believe it because there is no other agency that gathers such information. The production is not justifiable,” said Basnet.
Agriculture Secretary Yubak Dhoj GC had initially estimated that production could drop by 7-8 percent this year owing to varied problems in the farm sector.
Some agro experts who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity said paddy production was the key factor determining the country’s economic growth, and the government may have manipulated the figures to show that its ambitious growth target of 8.5 percent or something close was achievable.
Basnet said that Nepal recorded its highest ever paddy production in the last fiscal year, even then imports of the staple grain are ballooning to alarming levels. “There is something wrong somewhere."
According to the statistics of the Department of Customs, the cereal import bill amounted to Rs51.80 billion in the last fiscal year. Imports of rice and paddy amounted to Rs24.59 billion and Rs6.84 billion respectively.
This year a shortage of chemical fertiliser appeared after the Finance Ministry delayed releasing payment of Rs3 billion to the Agriculture Ministry to import additional supply to make up for reduced purchases due to a stronger US dollar and a price hike in the global market.
The Agriculture Ministry had planned to buy 286,000 tonnes of soil nutrients, but due to the appreciation of the greenback and higher prices in the global market, it was only able to buy 225,000 tonnes.
To immediately resolve the crisis, the Agriculture Ministry was forced to ask the cabinet to approve immediate import of fertiliser from India through government-to-government channels. Subsequently, on June 6, the cabinet allowed the government to import 50,000 tonnes of fertiliser (30,000 tonnes of urea and 20,000 tonnes of DAP).
The Indian government assigned two state-run trading companies—Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India and State Trading Corporation—to export fertiliser to Nepal. But these companies did not supply any fertiliser stating that they were out of stock.
In the last fiscal year, the country's paddy harvest hit a record high of 5.61 million tonnes, up 9 percent year-on-year, thanks to a good monsoon and sufficient supply of chemical fertiliser.
Ram Krishna Regmi, a senior statistician at the Agriculture Ministry, said that the delayed monsoon had affected the paddy transplantation initially during the June-August period, but it was extended by 19 days which has offset the losses.
The monsoon entered Nepal on June 20 and withdrew on October 12 this year. The normal monsoon onset and withdrawal date in Nepal is June 10 and September 23 respectively, according to the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology.
Rainfall was recorded at 96.2 percent. According to the department, 90 to 110 percent rainfall is considered to be normal rainfall for the season.
According to Regmi, a hybrid variety of paddy named Garima produced only empty grains in many places this year, but its impact was not big.
The ministry’s investigation showed that the dealer had sold fake Garima brand paddy seeds to farmers during the planting season. A preliminary investigation found that Garima planted on 1,700 hectares produced empty grains. The most affected districts were Chitwan, Kailali, Banke and Bardia.
An armyworm invasion wiped out paddy crops on 17,000 hectares in different parts of the country, according to the Agriculture Ministry. Regmi said that as per the ministry’s observation, the actual scale of damage caused by the armyworm invasion was not as big as reported in the initial stages.
“One of the major factors for increased productivity is the seed replacement rate,” said Regmi, adding that every year farmers have been replacing the seeds which have helped to increase productivity. “Besides, farm mechanisation has helped growth as farmers in the Tarai region are increasingly using machines.”
The country has witnessed a normal monsoon for three consecutive years, propelling the country to record growth rates of over 6 percent for three years in a row.
The performance of Nepal’s economy is dependent on the farm sector. In the fiscal year 2016-17, the country’s gross domestic product expanded by 7.74 percent, the highest since fiscal 1993-94, largely due to an above-normal monsoon that helped Nepal to secure the biggest paddy harvest of 5.23 million tonnes, in a rebound from two consecutive years of falling harvests triggered by drought.
The economy grew by 6.3 percent in the following year 2017-18, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. In 2017-18, Nepal’s paddy output totalled 5.15 million tonnes, down 1.49 percent from the 2016-17 bumper harvest, mostly on account of the August floods in the southern Tarai plains, known as the country’s food basket.
In the last fiscal year, the country’s economy grew by 7 percent driven by the agriculture sector.