Forests for prosperityIt is ironic that Nepal has to import timber when nearly half the area has forest cover
The government’s goal to create prosperity is very attainable if there is rational prioritisation of the key sectors. Nepal was ranked 89th in the 2017 Legatum Prosperity Index, up five places from 2016. Since the index was launched in 2006, the country has risen 19 places in the rankings. The major variables that are considered in the prosperity index are economic quality, business environment, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and natural environment. How has Nepal been able to make such progress? Agriculture, livestock, forest and environment are the great assets and marvels within the broader framework of development. These sectors play a crucial role in meeting the basic needs of the people, generating employment and raising incomes which is the foundation of development.
Nepal is blessed with scenic Himalayan peaks, mountains, mid-hills and plains. Most of these mountains including the flat lands are covered with green jungles. Forests not only provide timber but also fresh air, water and tourist attractions. It is very encouraging to note that the country’s forest coverage has increased to 44.5 percent of the total land area. Despite the numerous benefits of forests, their tangible contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) is small, which is a pity.
One of the ways to increase their contribution is tree planting and conservation of forests along with utilisation through scientific forest management. If we take the example of an important type of tree found in Nepal, the sal tree (Shorea robusta) turns into waste after about 70-80 years. Similarly, the economic life of the pine tree (Pinus) is considered to be 40-50 years. However, there is widespread hesitation in utilising forest resources following a scientific or sustainable use plan. Questions are being raised from different quarters about why we are wasting our valuable forest resources.
The Forest Act is a cumbersome document limiting the rational utilisation of forest resources. The message is that judicious use of forest resources can be made while maintaining stocks through enhanced tree planting and conservation. Considering the example of Malaysia, forest resources in Nepal can also be used sustainably to contribute to the national GDP while maintaining or even increasing our forest stocks. In fact, Nepal will not have to import timber from Malaysia, China and other countries if it adopts a sustainable plan for wood production and harvest while continuing tree planting and conservation. Old stocks removed through scientific forest management may contribute significantly to the national budget. It is high time that the country streamlined and delineated the revenue collection system in the federal system.
Currently, agriculture is the main source of food, income and employment for the Nepali people. It accounts for about 29 percent of the GDP. Many people link agriculture with our culture, religion and livelihood, and as a result, it has not been developed as desired from the subsistence level. Its growth is rather sluggish and it does not meet the needs of the people. There is unequal balance between agricultural growth and population growth. Despite the huge potential, we have been forced to experience this situation. In this context, we urgently need to review our past efforts and examine our vision, mission and action in the context of present needs.
Broadly speaking, programme, budget and manpower are the three factors of production. In our situation, there seems to be a mismatch either in the budgetary aspects or in the programme. Land is one of the important factors of production, but it is constantly being encroached upon due to real estate development. Land fragmentation leading to a peasant agricultural system is inevitable under our inheritance practices. Timely availability of fertilisers in desired quantities has been limited by lack of a fertiliser manufacturing industry in the country. Poor accessibility of high yielding crop seeds and livestock breeds has added to the cost of production. The capacity to cope with climate change impacts in the agriculture sector is another added burden.
Crop intensification has been held up as only one-third of the farm land is served by irrigation systems. Technical services are inadequate to meet growing demand due to insufficient and semi-skilled staff. Effective implementation of farm machinery and tools has been limited by a peasant farming system and geophysical situation. Industrialisation through value addition has been held up mainly by the small scale of production and lack of availability of facilities like collection, grading, packaging, cooling and processing. Production costs have also been skyrocketing due to high dependence on external inputs, improved technology and dominance of middle men in marketing. Despite these shortcomings, the agriculture sector has been driving the country’s economy, and it has not lost hope of achieving prosperity.
Nepal’s wealth of natural resources need to be utilised for the country’s prosperity while protecting them. Over-exploitation through misuse, overuse or abuse, especially in the forest and environment sectors, is not acceptable. The concerned stakeholders need to focus on value addition through better harvesting, processing and industrialising of timber. People’s participation in tree farming should be enhanced, and the forest sector’s contribution to the national economy will become visible. Tree planting and conservation with scientific forest management should go side by side.
The agriculture and livestock sectors need to be modernised by reforming the existing policies, programmes, activities and strategies. Reclamation of barren land through agro-forestry or a land leasing system needs policy reformation. Providing support with inputs (such as seeds, breeds,
fertilisers, irrigation, farm machinery and tools) and infrastructure (such as collecting, grading, packaging and storing in cold storage), promoting value addition and breaking up cartels in the market are some of the ways to reduce production costs. It is a pity that middlemen earn greater profits than the real producers.
The minimum support price for some imperishable commodities like rice needs to be urgently reviewed. The establishment of large rice godowns and cold stores in all seven provinces needs to be done without further delay. The accomplishment of these activities through enhanced coordination and support from all stakeholders is possible. The prime lead will be taken by the ministry with greater expectation of support from the public-private and cooperative partnership concept. In this endeavour, the arrangement of financial resources needs to be ensured. Hence, financial resources need to be mobilised and programmes need to be streamlined, and this will be reflected in the upcoming programmes.
GC is the secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land Management and Cooperatives