Returning migrant workers can be lured into profitable commercial agriculture, experts sayBut, opportunities in other sectors should also be explored based on their skill sets as all migrant workers won’t be interested in agriculture, they say.
Before the lockdown was enforced to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mukesh Yadav of Bijayapur Municipality-1, Rautahat, hardly had time to spare as he was busy selling seedlings of papaya and banana.
It has been just two years since he started a nursery to produce seedlings at his five kattha (1,690 sq m) of land by spending around Rs2.5 million.
Although he can’t sell seedlings due to lockdown, his ambition to expand hasn’t changed. “I have been struggling to fulfill the massive demand for seedlings ever since my nursery started producing them,” said Yadav. “ I am preparing to expand the nursery by investing Rs 3 milion in Birgunj as the city is well connected to the market.”
Yadav said although he hasn’t calculated his profit ratio, the numbers are good. “From one kg of papaya seeds, about 50,000 seedlings can be produced and I make a profit of Rs 10-15 per seedling.”
Agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors are some of the most profitable sectors in the country, according to a new analysis based on the National Economic Census conducted in 2018 by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
The study says that the annual profit ratio for 24,229 firms registered in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors stood at 55.7 percent, followed by education (46.1 percent), wholesale and retail sales and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (43 percent), and mining and quarrying (42.2 percent).
The data on remarkable profit in the commercial agriculture sector, could work as an incentive for migrant workers to engage in commercial agriculture, said officials and economists.
Similarly, the principles and priorities of the upcoming budget show that the government will introduce programmes to encourage self-employment for returnees from foreign employment in agriculture, micro, small and medium enterprises, and the service sector. This could also encourage people returning home to start their own business, they said.
“In Nepal, there is a distaste for professions related to agriculture among many youths, but the profit ratio shown by the census could encourage them to enter into commercial agriculture,” said Nabin Lal Shrestha, director general at the statistics bureau. “We have also read in the news that many migrant workers, who returned home, have started commercial agriculture.”
Yadav said although he didn’t go abroad for work, many of his clients, who want to start commercial banana and papaya farming, are recent returnees.
According to a recent study conducted by the Foreign Employment Board, at least 127,000
Nepali migrant workers are expected to return home from the Gulf and Malaysia after international travel restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are over.
A total of 407,000 are expected to return home in the long-run as the economies of the host countries are projected to contract due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are over 1.5 million Nepali migrant workers in these countries, according to the board.
Economists say that although a section of returnees migrant workers who return could be self-employed in commercial farming, many have other skills which should be utilised in their respective fields. The government should also help create self-employment in these sectors, they said.
Senior Economist Keshav Acharya said that not many migrant Nepali workers in the Gulf have been employed in crop-based agriculture farming. “Some are employed in livestock farming and have expertise in modern livestock farming,” he said. “Some are into restaurant business. The government can help them form cooperatives based on their skill sets and help them start related businesses,” he said. “Nepali embassies abroad countries should ask the workers to get skill certificates that can be recognised by the government here.”
According to Acharya, many Nepali workers going to Israel and South Korea have learnt modern agriculture and many of them have done good jobs after returning home to start commercial crop agriculture.
Economists say that there is a huge scope in commercial agriculture as the most of the country’s population is engaged in subsistence farming only.
But, for the farmers and entrepreneurs engaged in commercial farming, mitigating risks related to the market and supply chains is the main challenge.
“Taking agriculture products to the market is one of the biggest challenges for people engaged in commercial agriculture,” said another economist Govinda Nepal. “The government should facilitate them to deliver the products to the market through the cooperatives, set up large sales outlets and storage centres,” he said.
But, he insisted that there is also scope for many Nepalis to replace foreign workers who have been working in Nepal’s service and manufacturing sector such as vegetables and fruits shops, hairdressing and plumbing.
In fact, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada had said in a recent press meet that many Nepalis could be employed in various industries where foreigners have replaced locals who have migrated abroad.
The government is already making plans to absorb migrant workers returning home. The Ministry of the Industry, Commerce and Supply, which is running two projects to promote entrepreneurship, has recently formed a task force to suggest areas where migrant workers could be self-employed.
Currently, the Rural Enterprises and Remittance Project (Samriddhi) and Micro Enterprise Development for Poverty Alleviation are operational to promote entrepreneurship.
Chandra Ghimire, secretary at the ministry, told the Post that the government was preparing to expand and restructure these two programmes to accommodate migrant workers who might return. Sambridhhi is currently being run in three provinces while the other project is active at all 753 municipalities, according to the ministry. “Other measures will be taken based on recommendation of the taskforce,” he said.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of June 2, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 6,321,836 people with 375,657 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 198,140 with 5,608 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 72,460 confirmed cases with 1,543 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 1,811 cases with eight deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.