Seeds of hopeMaintaing a buffer stock of seeds will help meet its demand in times of disasters like the recent quake
Agriculture in Nepal is largely an exercise in subsistence farming even though the country desperately needs to increase its food production to feed its growing population. An increase in production could lessen inflation, stabilise the economy and also pave way for development. Further, it is not possible to ensure human welfare without ensuring that every person in the country is able to procure a minimum amount of food at an affordable price.
More often that not, efforts ensure adequate food production are hampered due to natural disasters such as floods, landslides, droughts and earthquakes. Such disasters destroy planted crops, stored seeds and also foodstocks year after year. In the hills, food crisis has almost become an annual problem. Meanwhile in the Tarai, the stock of foodgrains is rapidly declining because an increasing amount of the stock is being dispatched to the hills and the mountains. In this context, even as food aid from donor agencies is available, it would not be an acceptable solution to the problem except in times of disaster and famine.
A more sustainable solution to the problem would be to introduce seed security programmes in areas that have been hit by a sudden drought, hailstones, floods, landslide, or if crops have been attacked by pest and diseases and or if stored seeds have been destroyed, as in the recent quake. In addition, maitaining a buffer stock of seeds would not only help avert shortage of seeds during natural calamities but also absorb excess supply in times of overproduction.
Reviving the idea
Nepal introduced a buffer stock scheme way back in 2000. The then Agriculture Inputs Corporation received Rs 10 million from the Department of Agriculture for the purpose. After the establishment of the National Seed Company on May 8, 2002, the company was supposed to implement the buffer seed stocking scheme but the programme was dropped due to unavailability of funds.
The company currently produces seeds in the Tarai and stores them in its warehouses in Daman where the temperature is relatively low throughout the year. Seeds can be stored safely for upto two years without decreasing their viability and vigour. The quantity and varieties of the crop for buffer stocking is decided well ahead. Unsold or carry over seeds at the end of the season are not included in the buffer stock. Each stock is sold after a certain time, say after the end of a season, and replaced. This helps avoid wastage of seeds on account of loss of vigour, infestation, or the defects caused by time. This practice must be continued and at the same time, the scheme should be flexible enough to meet the seed demands of major food-grain crops and their popular varieties.
For quality assurance, only certified seeds should be included in the stockpile. A certain amount of foundation and breeder seeds of all-important crops must also be included in the buffer stock in an air-conditioned warehouse so as to meet the demand in an emergency situation. According to some experts, at least Rs 50 million is needed to begin the buffer stock programme. The amount should directly be provided to the National Seed Company for buffer seed storage management. The Company would then maintain a stock of seeds of major crops on the behalf of the government of Nepal.
Meanwhile, the selection of varieties and the quantity of seeds for buffer should be done by an expert committee of the National Seed Board. The expert committee should also periodically review the performance of national buffer stock scheme. Only then can a smooth seed supply be ensured in an emergency situation and also at times when there is a high demand for seeds in the country.
The is also a need to upgrade the skills of the technical staffs because only a team of trained technical staffs can lead the seed supplies and management in the country towards the right direction. This requires a firm determination on part of the government as well as policymakers. And once the plans are in place,
the government must strictly adhere to them.
Jha is an agricultural economist and former Managing Director of National Seed Company Limited