Back to the villageIf rural infrastructure is developed, youths will have no reason to migrate to the cities
When hundreds of young people are leaving Nepal every day to seek employment in the Gulf countries, Bill and Janet Ashwell, a couple from South Africa, are earning thousands of rupees every month selling organic vegetables and fish grown in their aquaponic garden in Nepal itself. A short visit to their garden at Godavari, Lalitpur, will inspire everyone to start their own farm. Aquaponics, at its most basic level, is the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil) in one integrated system. Fish waste provides organic food for growing vegetables, and the vegetables naturally filter the water in which the fish live. Any type of fresh water fish works well in an aquaponic system. The most widely grown fish in aquaponic systems is tilapia, but catfish, bluegill and trout can also be grown. Bill and Janet are earning money through aquaponic gardening not only by selling vegetables but growing fish too. Their aquaponic garden could be a model for those Nepali youths who want to do something within the country.
A green revolution
More than 500,000 young Nepalis enter the labour market every year, but the government has failed to create job opportunities for even a fraction of these hopefuls. As a result, almost half of the total population of Nepal remains unemployed, and thousands leave the country seeking greener pastures abroad. Among those working abroad, 1.5 percent are skilled workers, 23 percent semi-skilled and about 75.5 percent unskilled labourers. A vast majority of the unskilled migrant workers are working in the construction sector while a huge proportion of them are working on farms or as shepherds. This exodus of the workforce has left agricultural lands barren in the plains and hills and devastated livestock farming. As a result, even though we boast that we are an agricultural country, we are compelled to import food from the industrialised countries of Europe and Latin America.
According to the statistics released by the Ministry of Agricultural Development, Nepal had a food deficit of 71,387 tonnes in the first quarter of this year. Last year’s total edible grain output was 5.27 million tonnes against the requirement of 5.34 million tonnes. The food deficit has already increased the import bill. According to the Trade and Export Promotion Centre, Nepal imported Rs35 billion worth of cereals in the first 11 months of the last fiscal year. Similarly, the country imported 35,600 tonnes of maize worth Rs1.12 billion from India through the dry port in the first six months. Other food items that topped the import list are mustard, lentils, wheat and soybean. In total, Nepal imported agro products worth Rs137.12 billion in the last fiscal year 2014-15, knocking down oil imports from the number one spot.
According to the Ministry of Agricultural Development, 36 out of the 75 districts in Nepal are facing a food deficit today which has set alarm bells ringing. When the country is importing food to feed its people due to a food deficit, our national security could be compromised as food security is one of the major components of national security. Therefore, it is urgent to start a green revolution in the agricultural sector to increase food productivity in the country like the green revolution started by Indian prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in the 1960s.
Until we can attract young people to take up farming, Nepal will not be able to produce enough food grain to feed its population. Youth unemployment is both a threat and an opportunity for the country as the agricultural sector has a huge potential for job creation. Young people can transform the agricultural sector by using new techniques and technology. There is growing concern worldwide that young people have become disenchanted with agriculture as we are living in an era where rapid urbanisation has led to a sharp decline in the rural population.
Lowly and unglamorous
Therefore, to keep young people in the villages, the government should invest in rural infrastructure. Adequate facilities should be provided in the villages so that youths will have no reason to migrate to the cities. This will make them available in the villages to engage in farming. Since farming is seen as a lowly, back-breaking and unglamorous profession in Nepali society, there should be a change in the mindset among the common people. Nepali farmers tell their children that if they do not study hard, they will end up doing farming just like their parents, which shows that there is less pride and dignity associated with agriculture. Therefore, our children should be taught about the importance of agriculture from a young age in school by including farming lessons in the school curriculum.
The cost of farm labour, seeds, fertilisers and pesticides has been increasing while prices of agricultural products in the market have been dropping. As a result, incomes from agriculture have been declining, making young people reluctant to take up farming. Therefore, the government should bring a youth-friendly agricultural policy and provide incentives to young farmers. The use of agricultural machinery like power tillers and harvesters could encourage young people to engage in farming. Therefore, the government should subsidise these machines. What I saw in Bill and Janet Ashwell’s life is vision and a passion for farming. They say farming is their calling.
This is missing among our Nepali youths. Farming and farmers should be held in high regard to attract more youths to join farming as they are the ones who sustain our lives.
Kainee is associated with Global Hope Network International, a humanitarian organisation