Housebound Nepalis buy mobile phones and laptops in record numbers6.35 million phones imported between mid-July 2020 and mid-May 2021, up from 3.95 million in same period last fiscal.
Nepalis went on a mobile and laptop buying spree to stay connected as the pandemic confined them to their homes, pushing up imports to an all-time high.
Online classes and remote commuting became the order of the day for students and office employees after the government clamped a lockdown, and so they reached for their personal devices, officials said.
As per the Customs Department, Nepal imported nearly Rs40 billion worth of cell phones and laptops in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year.
That is more than twice what this farming country spends on importing chemical fertiliser annually.
Nepal imported 6.35 million mobile phones during the period mid-July 2020 to mid-May 2021, compared to 3.95 million units during the same period in the last fiscal year.
The imports were valued at Rs32.09 billion, up from Rs14.68 billion previously.
Officials said imports rose steeply mainly because many educational institutions launched remote learning and online classes in response to the stay-home order.
Schools across the country were closed for most of 2020 after the government imposed a lockdown in March.
According to traders, another reason for the import boom was that the grey market vanished because all transport routes including flights were shut down.
The import bill for laptops and notebooks totalled Rs6.02 billion during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year. In contrast, imports amounted to Rs164.74 million during the whole of the last fiscal year ended mid-July.
In terms of units, Nepal imported 108,531 laptops and notebooks in the first 10 months compared to 2,995 during the same period of the last fiscal. Imports of tablets totalled 28,565 units worth Rs592.36 million during the review period.
“The obvious drivers for the growth centred around work from home and remote learning needs,” said Nawaraj Kunwar, president of the Federation of Computer Associations Nepal.
“The pandemic has hit every sector badly. But it was a boon for sellers of personal gadget like mobiles, laptops and tablets.”
With the coronavirus situation becoming uncertain again, and people gradually adapting to digital technology, demand for gadgets may rise exponentially in the future, Kunwar said.
From grocery shopping to tele-medicine, more and more people are turning to digital technology, and this will result in smartphone demand exploding, Kunwar said.
With internet service reaching more rural areas, it will further push sales of modern gadgets like smartphones and laptops, he added.
In 2020, approximately 87 percent of the population in Nepal had access to the internet, according to the management and information report of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority.
The number of mobile internet users in Nepal currently stands at 26.35 million.
Sanjay Agrawal, vice-president of the Mobile Phone Importers’ Association, said that demand increased drastically with a majority of schools and colleges adopting online classes.
“We did not see such demand for personal gadgets before during last year’s lockdown, even though many people were in financial difficulties,” he said. Tens of thousands of people were furloughed, and many lost their jobs when the government enforced a lockdown for nearly four months starting on March 24, 2020.
Nepal’s economy faced headwinds, technically recording an economic recession for the first time in almost 40 years with the country witnessing negative growth rates for two consecutive quarters because of the Covid-19 pandemic-induced supply and demand shock.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year 2019-20, the country’s economic growth rate, or output of the gross domestic product, plunged 15.4 percent compared to the same period in 2018-19, which resulted in a year-on-year negative growth rate of 1.99 percent.
This is the first annual negative growth rate since 1982-83 when Nepal’s economic growth rate plunged to -2.97 percent, according to the World Bank.
The negative growth rate continued in the first quarter of the current fiscal year 2020-21.
Following controls on trade through unauthorised channels, the government’s tax revenue has also increased. The exchequer collected Rs5.07 billion in import duty on mobile phones alone in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year.
Revenue collection totalled Rs2.32 billion during the same period in the last fiscal year.