A sustainable NepalInstead of relying too much on other countries, Nepal should devise policies to foster self-reliance
Self-reliance in development is a process synonymous to a blacksmith’s treatment of iron for manufacturing various implements. This can be an emblematic but a powerful example to learn how small actions can eventually result in a significant outcome.
Until the early 1940s, Nepal had a high human development index (HDI); it was even better than that of many other countries in Asia. Nepal was self-sufficient and a net exporter of agriculture produce and various other commodities. Fast forward to Fiscal Year 2015-16 and Nepal witnessed a trade deficit of Rs700 billion, almost a third of GDP. This figure is more than doubling every four years. The GDP score was less than three percent last year and quite below five percent for many years. Conspicuous consumption as opposed to productive investment in public, household and private sectors is on the rise. National economy is over-dependent on imports and a vicious circle of poverty is gripping the nation strongly.
Having bullied Nepal for almost 70 years in various ways, India has made Nepal invest an excessive amount of time and energy to attend to its whims at the cost of its own peace, stability and development. Nepali people are compelled to express their frustration and suspect that India wants to see Nepalis divided and become socially and economically vulnerable. China, on the other hand, has remained rather inert at helping Nepal develop Nepal because of India. However, our two giant neighbours are equally important for us regardless of any socio-cultural differences and geographical positioning.
Bilateral mega-projects committed by India such as the Postal-Road, highways, railways, hydro power (Pancheshwor, Upper Karnali, Arun and electricity transmission lines) have not been initiated for many years. Resolving critical border issues such as withdrawal of Indian troops from Kalapani and revision of Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship (1950) remains neglected. In violation of international law, India has unilaterally imposed economic blockades on Nepal in the past including in 2015. However, India continues to offer gifts such as ambulance vehicles, fire engines and bicycles as a goodwill gesture in bilateral relations, which, at times, has started to feel insulting.
Small is beautiful
In the absence of tangible improvements in bilateral relations, instead of overly counting on it, Nepal should judiciously reinvent self-governing policies to foster self-reliance and sustainable development. Nepal should correct every mistake and loss made over the years, and consciously embark on a socialist production mode suited to our context and environment. EF Schumacher, an internationally renowned economic thinker, in his classic book Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered reinforces the idea that “production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life, while dependence on imports from afar and the consequent need to produce for export to unknown and distant peoples is highly uneconomic and justifiable only in exceptional cases and on a small scale.” Traditionally, Nepal is an agrarian economy; ‘mega’ manufacturing industries and infrastructures are unaffordable and unmanageable, evidenced by the track record of many semi-government industrial productions and service outlets going defunct.
Nepal has the benefit of different climatic zones arising from a diverse terrain that provides enormous possibilities of growth in agriculture, fisheries, horticulture, floriculture, herbs, livestock and dairy production. For self-reliance, appropriate and intermediate technologies are believed to empower people including sustenance of agro-industrial structure. Commitment to support resilient livelihoods, improve food security and find alternatives to high food import bills by investing more in the farm sector is vital.
Besides intensively cultivating every inch of the available arable land, for an increase in production, the land size in the hills can be increased several folds by utilising the desolate sloping parts of up to 45 degree gradient. Due to a lack of storage facilities, more than 80 percent of paddy is marketed immediately after harvest, when prices are usually the lowest. These are then imported back when the price is too high. Constructing river canals, harvesting rainwater, renovating traditional ponds and digging new ones in the Tarai can be used for dry season irrigation. Additionally, tarpaulin-coated ponds for vegetable production and fisheries could be a boon in the hills. An endless giver of resources and nourishment is the cow, whose quantity and quality (high breed) should be increased for self-sufficiency in milk and dairy products. The cow dung can be used in biogas plants for cooking meals and lighting, not to mention its use as fertiliser for enhanced agriculture production and environment conservation. The number of other livestock should also be multiplied. Mechanical refrigeration is energy intensive and expensive; we can utilise locally made zero energy cool chambers and northern slopes of hills and mountains to keep fruits and vegetables cool enough for preservation.
At the same time, Nepal should also focus on international trade. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) can play a crucial role in facilitating policy reforms and working environment, eliminating long gestation and payback periods of infrastructure projects such as irrigation, transport, railways, ropeways, airways, tourism, petroleum and manufacturing industries. More importantly, political leaders should end demagogic and egoistic leadership for restoring political stability, enhancing national solidarity and embarking on more result-oriented work. Effective monitoring based on knowledge, experience and skills and commitment to targets and timelines with frequent physical presence in the field of all concerned are vital for meeting national self-reliance objectives.
Dixit is an expert in integrated development issues