Easy come, easy goFalling farm productivity and swelling food imports are the result of remittance
Nepal is an agricultural country, but its imports of farm products have been setting new records every year. In 2016, the country’s agro imports surpassed the previous year’s figure in 10 months, according to the Customs Department. The list of imports is also becoming longer by the day. This has raised many questions about our future dependency and national development.
There are many projects, plans and initiatives launched by the government in collaboration with different agencies, like the Country Investment Plan (CIP) developed in 2010, KISAN project as part of USAID’s global Feed the Future (FTF) initiative that began in 2010, Nepal Agriculture and Food Security Project of the World Bank in Nepal, Agriculture Sector Development Program, High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP) in Hill and Mountain Areas with the financial support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) 2013-2018, Poverty Alleviation Fund Project II, Kisankalagi Unnat Biu-Bijan Karyakram, Adaptation for Smallholders in Hilly Areas Project, Samriddhi-Rural Enterprises and Remittances Project and so many other small initiatives.
According to the International Labour Organisation, 68 percent of Nepal’s population is employed in the agriculture and forestry sector which accounts for 34 percent of the GDP. Nevertheless, the country is struggling to produce an adequate supply of food for its citizens. Since 2008, USAID has been working in eight flood-prone Tarai districts to increase agricultural productivity and the living standards of thousands of farmers by improving their skills and promoting new technologies. Nepal was one of the first countries to benefit from IFAD loans, beginning in 1978. All the projects will mature by 2018 or earlier, but the results are unknown.
Project reports show improvements in the farm sector, but the real data reveal something else. We are now importing not only products that we cannot produce but those that can be easily produced too. This raises the question: For whom are the training programmes being conducted and what is the level of improvement? What exactly is lacking? Why is productivity decreasing and what can be the solutions? It is a fact that no one project has been successful in achieving its goal. Glowing project reports talk about several improvements in agricultural reforms, but most of them are overly exaggerated. None of the reports released by the respective organisations has said how far the objective has been achieved and what exactly has improved. The time duration of the projects, project reports and agricultural reforms do not match the data of decreasing productivity and increasing imports and outlay. More than $1 billion has been spent on reforming the agricultural sector. Without agricultural reform, reducing poverty is a far-fetched dream.
Nepal exports tea and leather products in large quantities mainly to India. The non-tariff barriers imposed by India in the name of keeping out low quality goods is a direct attack against Nepal’s exports. India knows very well that Nepal’s tea is of superior quality and Indian tea can never compete with it. The Indian government has erected barriers against tea exports in order to protect the tea farmers there. It is our misfortune that the Nepal government is not able to create a favourable situation to promote exports and reduce imports.
Remittance and farming
Reports and surveys show that remittance is good for a country like Nepal, but they forget to mention its future consequences. A remittance-based economy is not going to last; and if Nepal goes down this road, it will be moving nearer to collapse. The bitter truth is that falling farm productivity and swelling food imports are the result of remittance. Suppose a man with 10 ropanis of land leaves his farm and goes abroad to work. The money he earns as a migrant worker is enough to take care of his family in Nepal. The family prefers to buy food with the money he sends home instead of investing it, and the land remains unused. According to the Department of Labour, more than 2.32 million able-bodied young men are working abroad resulting in 1.16 million hectares of farm land lying fallow.
It is true that various training programmes have been conducted and are going on in the agricultural sector. But to make them more effective, they should be result-based. Providing training to the old generation will not be effective. Youths must be engaged and agencies must integrate them if the motive is to get results and transform the agricultural sector. Young people are the only means for agricultural reform that the country can achieve in the short term. Nepal’s future lies in youth action. The youths of the country and the government have to make a choice between self-sustainability and dependency on other countries for basic products that we can produce easily. Sometimes, ignorance can be simply ignored; but such ignorance will become so big that our country and the upcoming generation will never be able to bear it.
Bhatta is Program Officer at Global College International