Transforming agricultureThe country’s widely touted farm sector is falling behind because it lacks priority
The contribution of agriculture to the national economy has shrunk from 59 percent in the Sixth Plan period (1980-85) to 28 percent today. Besides a drop in farm production and productivity, the percentage of the population engaged in agriculture has also declined, adding insult to injury. There are dozens of factors responsible for the weakening of the agriculture sector. The major reasons are low priority given to the farm sector and removal of grants by various donor organisations. The government had visualised providing special attention to agriculture via industrialisation and commercialisation, but it has not been able to achieve its targets because of insufficient investments to build the necessary infrastructure.
Similarly, the state could not fulfil the major prerequisites for integrated development of the agro sector such as slashing losses in agricultural production and storage, aid and loans for farmers and important strategies related to food processing with full spirit, dedication, commitment and sincerity. As a result, this sector has not been able to play an important role in ensuring sustainable food security, boosting income in rural areas and building a base for inclusive development. A rapid decrease in water, forest and land resources has become problematic for the agriculture sector. The problem of food security is challenging due to the skyrocketing prices of commodities, economic crisis, volatile market values and climate change.
Neighbouring India has given high priority to agriculture by providing grants, subsidies and agriculture loans besides guaranteeing to buy farm produce. But in Nepal, the non-prioritised agriculture sector could not be competitive. An open border has facilitated the import of subsidised Indian agriculture produce, thus discouraging our farmers. If the agriculture sector is considered to be the cornerstone of Nepal’s economy, protection and promotion of this sector is necessary with sufficient prioritisation. The global financial crisis and climate change means increased investments need to be made to transform this sector.
In this context, Nepal has to bring climate smart and eco-friendly agricultural programmes. Rapid structural changes should be made to the existing subsistence farming along with its commercialisation and modernisation to achieve the target of rapid economic progress and social justice. The agriculture sector is linked with the livelihoods of poor people and it is important for developing countries like Nepal. However, currently agriculture is struggling along as a neglected occupation. Youths do not like to engage in farming. In a bid to boost incomes and raise the standard of living, Nepali youths are migrating abroad to work in increasing numbers, forgetting that the same labour could be used on one’s own land to harvest gold.
In this situation, the country is facing a challenge to increase food production to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. The country should, therefore, develop strategies to attract youths towards agriculture to establish sustainable food security and develop the agriculture system. The government needs to make policies to strengthen the livelihoods of the youths involved in agriculture by introducing commercialisation to make them capable of boosting the local economy. The agro sector is the main catalyst for boosting the export trade of developing countries like Nepal. However, due to the wave of neo-liberalism that swept into Nepal from the West, the country has abandoned the agriculture sector leading to its destruction.
Agriculture, extension and research did not progress as anticipated by the Ministry of Agriculture and the departments under it. Innovative approaches in agriculture started diminishing. Due to an inadequate supply of quality seeds and fertilisers, this sector has been badly affected. Now the country cannot escape from its responsibility of improving this sector in the name of liberalisation and privatisation. In order to commercialise and modernise farming in the country, the government should play the role of a facilitator to provide resources like agriculture technologies, irrigation, quality seeds and fertilisers along with infrastructure like transportation and electricity that are connected directly with the agro sector.
Coordination is key
For the promotion of the agriculture sector, it is essential to improve the budget disbursement system encoded with conditions and end purposeless programmes. After the implementation of the Agriculture Perspective Plan (APP), budget allocations for this sector are on a decreasing trend. Banks have started investing in the agriculture sector as per the direction of Nepal Rastra Bank. The provision of insurance for the agriculture sector is a positive initiative, but actual farmers have not benefitted from it. This requires a reclassification of farmers. The system of launching new programmes without studying their feasibility and inappropriate cropping patterns have resulted in the investment becoming unproductive.
The government has launched super zones, zones, blocks and pockets for different commodities in all states of Nepal through the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project with the aim of modernising and commercialising agriculture and improving marketing. This initiative should be considered a positive move for achieving the targeted development of the country by investing in the farm sector. The project basically aims to build specific areas of major horticulture produce, increase the value of exportable agriculture commodities, increase competition, develop agriculture as a profitable business, create job opportunities and ensure effective service flow by promoting coordination between government bodies. The initiation of the project is not important, but attaining its determined goals matters.
The intended green revolution will only be possible in our context if agriculture-based small and medium industries are developed with the motive of alleviating poverty. It will then be a milestone in economic revolution and evolution. For this to happen, the agriculture sector should be modernised, commercialised, scientised and merchandised for which the government, non-government organisations and private sector should move together.
Timilsina is associated with the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project