Mechanisation is keyLand plotting for housing construction is the major problem to enlarging farm size
Nepal’s food grain output dropped by 652,000 tonnes in the last fiscal year due to a sharp fall in rice and wheat harvests. The Tarai’s food grain reserves have started declining, and greater amounts are being dispatched to the hills and mountains. Food policies have been designed to redistribute food from the Tarai to Kathmandu, the hills and mountains. In many areas of the country, with the exception of the Tarai and Kathmandu Valley, per capita food production has declined, and it is below nutritional requirements by most standards. Geographically, the country is divided into high mountains, middle hills, the Kathmandu Valley and the Tarai plains. Villagers in the dry cold mountains subsist on livestock, potatoes, barley and millet. Maize is the main food in the middle hills. Rice is the main food grain for all the Nepali people, and wheat has also become a popular food grain in the country.
Efforts have been made during different periodic plans to increase food production and ensure food availability in the country. A number of agricultural projects have been initiated and launched with the aim of boosting food grain production. Despite these efforts, there is a food deficit in some parts of the country. Food availability can be achieved either by increasing production or increasing imports. As Nepal’s ability to earn foreign exchange is limited, it must rely on its own production for all its needs. Food aid as grants is available from donor agencies, but this cannot be an acceptable solution to hunger and malnutrition problems permanently. Our production objectives are influenced by low output in the hills and mountains due to the difficulty of transporting farm inputs and commodities. Food grain production in these areas depend on the monsoon for water. Inadequate nutrition and threats of famine seem to be acceptable facts in these regions.
Profitable crop rotation
People living in Kathmandu are more educated and have more access to information than people living elsewhere in Nepal. Key power-wielding government officials, foreign projects and also major production-related offices are located in Kathmandu. As a result, Kathmandu is the main channel for obtaining and disseminating information. Therefore, the use of fertilisers and other related inputs is faster in Kathmandu than in the Tarai and the hills. Kathmandu farmers receive higher prices for their crops than Tarai farmers, while hill and mountain farmers often do not produce enough to sell. Kathmandu farmers also receive more benefits than hill farmers because fertiliser prices are lower, and this is the reason they use more fertiliser than farmers in other regions.
But the small cultivated area in the Kathmandu Valley cannot solve our food problems. Quality seeds, irrigation, fertilisers and practices of mechanised farming play a pivotal role in increasing production and productivity. Farmers must adopt them to raise their farm income. But small farmers hold a majority of the cultivable lands. It is very difficult to mechanise farming in small landholdings; moreover it is expensive. Mechanisation of selected farm operations is a key factor in the successful implementation of an intensive system based on intensive use of yielding technology and multiple cropping.
Farmers face difficulties in timely and successful performance of agricultural operations, especially during times of peak labour demand, such as sowing, harvesting and threshing, due to the seasonal nature of farming. Smoothen these peaks, and labour saving devices can be introduced by mechanising some selected agricultural operations. Thus switch-over to mechanical power will not only help perform various operations in time but also help farmers to adopt more profitable crop rotation.
Frequent food crises
Hill farmers have poor connectivity to markets, while land plotting for housing construction in the Tarai and Kathmandu Valley is the major problem to enlarging farm size. When farmers produce more than what they need, the government should procure the surplus output so that production will not fall in the succeeding years due to the uncertainty of the surplus being sold in the market. The surplus food grain should be used in the creation of buffer stocks. This involves storing food grains in a high production year for consumption in a year of low production. This is an expensive task for the government, but it is important for farmers’ income and also for food production and agricultural growth. Natural disasters like drought, earthquake, flood and landslide destroy planted crops and food stocks. In the hills, food crises are now so frequent that they have almost become an annual feature. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure food for all citizens in the country. Inadequate food production can fuel inflation and destabilise the economy.
Our food problems will likely persist until we make a long-term production strategy. It would be more appropriate to develop a programme to achieve self-sufficiency in the hills and mountains and continuously increase surplus production in the Tarai. It is also necessary to ensure national utilisation of land and other production resources. First, we should stop land plotting for housing purposes and launch intensive production programmes by offering incentive packages and using high-yield varieties and hybrid seeds with more fertilisers and more irrigation.
The government should inject more capital in the agriculture sector and rural development. Research and extension should be strengthened and reorganised. A suitable combination of technologies should be developed based on agro-climatic regions. Seed supplies must be assured. It is very important to maintain buffer stocks of seeds to meet spurts in demand during times of natural disasters. The government should lower taxes and simplify the bank loan process and declare minimum support prices for major food crops. We must provide appropriate and suitable incentives for every agricultural enterprise to boost production and make commercially viable large farms possible. It has become urgent to accelerate food production with a long-term strategy, effective management system and stable decisions on food grain production related campaigns. All those involved in food production activities must be dedicated to achieving the goal.
Jha is an agricultural economist and adjunct professor at Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology, Kathmandu