We shall rice againNepal can become a paddy exporting country if productivity is increased even slightly
Nepal’s economy is dominated by agriculture. Because of a harsh terrain, only about 20 percent of the total land area is cultivable; however, the farm sector contributes about 32.5 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). From the formulation of the fifth Five-Year Plan (1975-80) to the Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS 2016-35), farming has been given the highest priority. In the late 1980s, agriculture was the livelihood of more than 90 percent of the population. In recent years, the figure has declined to 63.5 percent. From the point of view of commercialisation, it can be considered a positive indicator that Nepal’s farm sector is gradually becoming specialised.
Unlike in a developed agricultural scenario, Nepal’s food production is not enough to feed its growing population. This indicates that there is an urgent need to promote commercialisation by linking it with science, industry, mechanisation, modernisation and diversification. Considering these facts, the government has been giving ample emphasis to increasing agricultural production and diversifying the agricultural base by focusing on irrigation, greater use of fertiliser, pocket package programmes, use of high-yielding improved seed varieties, agricultural insurance and soft loans. The trend of keeping land fallow, absenteeism, climatic shocks and conversion of agricultural land into real estate have also hindered crop production tremendously.
Rice is by far the most important crop in Nepal in terms of acreage, production, food habits and economic impact. Rice accounts for 21 percent of the farming sector’s contribution of 32.5 percent to the GDP. Furthermore, rice provides nearly 50 percent of the calorie requirement supplied by cereals. It is grown on about 1.15 million hectares, or 55 percent of the total cultivable land in the country. According to the Ministry of Agricultural Development, Nepal produced 5,230,327 tonnes of rice in fiscal 2015-16. Productivity was estimated at 3.369 tonnes per hectare. Compared to the previous fiscal year, the rice acreage grew 13.91 percent and production was up 21.67 percent. Timely rainfall, improved technology, improved seeds, efforts of agricultural technicians and farm mechanisation have significantly contributed to the rise in rice production.
Likewise, maize output and acreage has increased. Nepali farmers grew 2,231,517 tonnes of maize on 891,583 hectares. Productivity has also increased and it was measured at 2.9 tonnes per hectare. Compared to the previous year, the acreage, output and productivity rose 1 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent respectively. Finger millet is another important crop. This year, it was grown on 263,101 hectares and output totalled 306,215 tonnes. Productivity was estimated at 2.68 tonnes per hectare. The acreage has shrunk compared to the previous year, but production and productivity have increased 1.26 percent and 2.68 percent respectively. The decline in acreage has been attributed to the harder work required to grow it. Buckwheat is another emerging crop not only in the hills but also in the mid-hills and the Tarai. This year, 11,847 tonnes of buckwheat was produced on 10,890 hectares.
In view of the increasing food demand due to a fast rising population, there is an urgent need to boost agricultural production. Since it is not possible to bring more land under cultivation, the only viable strategy is to increase the productivity of these crops. While doing so, intensification in the production system through a multi-faceted approach is the only solution.
Not very far
In the case of rice, resource-rich farmers have been producing 4-5 tonnes per hectare in the main season. These yields are realised on irrigated and well-fertilised areas with adequate plant protection. Improved varieties yield well under these conditions. About 79 percent of the rice acreage is rain-fed. High yielding varieties are grown mainly on irrigated and favourable rain-fed areas. The development of drought-tolerant rice varieties and increasing the acreage with Chaite rice should be the top priority. Increasing the seed replacement rate (SRR), expanding irrigated areas by establishing solar panel systems, promoting agricultural mechanisation and enlarging storage and processing facilities besides setting minimum support prices (MSP) for cereal crops are some of the steps that need to be taken urgently.
Towards this end, super zones and zones need to be established and a block production approach should be followed. Considering the country’s rice import patterns, there is a need to expand the acreage of fine and aromatic rice. In this regard, the Department of Agriculture has conducted mega rice and fine aromatic rice production programmes. Nepal has a surplus food grain production of 6-7 million tonnes, based on its requirement of 96-98 million tonnes to feed its population. Nepal is not a hunger-prone country, rather a prolific rice consuming country. The country’s rice supply is only slightly insufficient, not more than 3-4 million tonnes short. This can be easily fixed by changing food habits and increasing productivity with gentle efforts. If rice productivity can be boosted by 0.4-0.5 tonnes per hectare, Nepal will become a rice exporting country. That day is not very far.
GC is secretary at the Ministry of Livestock Development