Nepal's paddy harvest hits record high for fourth straight yearFarmers gathered 5.62 million tonnes of paddy this year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.
Nepal’s paddy production reached a record high for the fourth straight year due to good monsoon rains and an abundant supply of farmhands, even though a severe shortage of chemical fertiliser during transplantation and top dressing caused distress among farmers.
According to preliminary estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development released on Monday, farmers harvested 5.62 million tonnes of paddy, up by a marginal 1.28 percent compared to last year.
This year, there was plentiful rain and an ample labour supply as virus lockdowns sent back hordes of migrant workers to their villages which helped South Asian countries gather bumper harvests.
Agro experts said Nepal had a chance to reap an even larger harvest because it had a bountiful supply of both, but the government blew it due to its weak fertiliser distribution mechanism.
“If there had been adequate chemical fertiliser, we could have harvested 6 million tonnes of paddy this year,” Yogendra Kumar Karki, secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, told the Post. “There is a marginal growth in output, but it’s still an all-time record high.”
Paddy is transplanted in June and harvested in November. The monsoon is the lifeblood of Nepal's Rs3.76 trillion economy which is farm-dependent, as nearly two-thirds of the farmlands are rain-fed. Paddy contributes around 7 percent to the gross domestic product and is the key income source of farmers.
Karki said that paddy productivity grew 0.28 percent to 3.82 tonnes per hectare. The acreage increased by 1 percent to 1.47 million hectares.
Nepal received 31 percent more rain this monsoon season than the average rainfall in the last three decades, helping cultivators to achieve a better-than-expected harvest despite the shortage of soil nutrients, said Ram Krishna Regmi, chief statistician at the ministry.
The southern Tarai plains, known as the country's rice bowl, received above-average rainfall, allowing farmers to finish paddy transplantation before the third week of July.
“It was the fastest paddy transplantation on record,” said Bhola Man Singh Basnet, a former agricultural scientist from the Nepal Agricultural Research Council. “Further, many labourers have returned to their villages due to the pandemic lockdown.”
According to him, the extra human resources contributed much to agriculture, thus lowering wages in rural areas.
According to the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, this year the monsoon entered Nepal from the east on June 12, two days later than usual.
Due to the favourable climate, rice output in India, the world's top producer, is set to reach new highs, officials said.
The effect of the bumper harvest in the southern neighbour is yet to be seen in the Nepali market.
“Obviously, the jump in production might not be good news for farmers. It may result in depressed prices for Nepali producers because consumers will buy cheaper and quality rice from India instead of buying locally grown foods,” said Basnet.
"The government has announced the minimum support price for paddy, but it will not do any good for Nepali farmers as an increase in rice imports will hurt them. Thus, we must wait and see how the situation pans out," said Basnet.
“Obviously, we are conscious of the pricing factor and the bumper harvest in the neighbouring country,” said secretary Karki. “We have planned to supply rice to the hill and mountain regions to create demand. And to this end, the government will help to strengthen the supply system.” According to him, the state-owned supply companies will continue to procure paddy from farmers.
Nepal’s cereal import requirements in the fiscal year 2020-21 are forecast at a near‑average level of 1.3 million tonnes, said the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture. This unit of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) monitors food supply and demand and other key indicators for assessing the overall food security situation in all countries of the world,
Rice imports are expected to reach 740,000 tonnes, despite the bumper outputs for two consecutive years.
The FAO said that the overall food security situation of Nepal was good, following four consecutive years of bumper harvests. Concerns remain for an estimated 2.8 million food-insecure people, accounting for about 10 percent of the total population, mostly concentrated in the remote northern parts of Far Western and Mid‑Western mountainous regions.
In these regions, generally low agricultural productivity and poorly functioning markets limit the access to food for the most vulnerable population.
“Following four consecutive years of bumper harvests, rice imports have been increasing in terms of value; but in terms of quantity, they have been constant,” said Regmi. “This shows that increased production has been feeding the increased population.” He added that cereal imports this year would remain at last year’s level.
According to the Department of Customs, cereal tops the list of agro imports. Nepal's cereal import bill came to Rs56.88 billion, almost a fifth of the total agriculture import bill, in the last fiscal year that ended in mid-July. Of the total cereal imports, rice accounts for Rs22.23 billion and maize comes second with Rs14.75 billion.
This year, farmers encountered fertiliser shortages right from the beginning of the planting season in June. First, there was a short supply of diammonium phosphate (DAP), the world's most widely used phosphorus fertiliser, as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the global production and supply chain.
Then a shortage of urea appeared during the first and second top dressing. In response, the then minister for agriculture Ghanashyam Bhusal promised to bring urea from Bangladesh and requested a shipment of 50,000 tonnes. But the government failed to import it.
In many districts, farmers bought urea smuggled in from India by paying a black market price of Rs50 per kg following a nationwide shortage of the farm nutrient, according to ministry officials. The fertiliser costs Rs14 per kg at the government subsidised rate.