Farmers in western Makwanpur return to marijuana farming due to pandemic-induced povertyPoor crop harvest for a lack of fertilisers has driven the locals to destroy cash crops and plant marijuana to stay afloat.
Farmers in Kailash and Raksirang rural municipalities in western Makwanpur district have started cultivating marijuana since the harvest in their maize and millet fields this year will see no returns.
Hareram Negi, a local farmer in Ward No. 3 of Kailash Rural Municipality, says maize and millet crops he had planted this year did not produce good yield for a lack of fertilisers. “The harvest is poor. The crops are yellowing,” said Negi. “We won’t have neither crops nor vegetables to sell this year. We are cultivating marijuana to have at least some income to keep us afloat.”
After the local level elections in 2017, the police administration in coordination with the people’s representatives had launched a campaign to curb marijuana cultivation in Makwanpur. The local administration had deployed police personnel to destroy illegal marijuana and opium farming in rural areas in the district. Since then, most farmers in local units where marijuana cultivation was the norm, started vegetable farming on a large scale.
But this year, the farmers have chosen to cultivate marijuana since most of them could not get fertilisers for their crops while some could not sell their produce due to the pandemic and the lockdown.
“Farmers here started planting marijuana in mid-June. They are growing marijuana like they would grow crops,” said a local teacher of Bhawani Secondary School in Kailash Rural Municipality, who preferred anonymity.
Negi says that farmers like him were compelled to stay indoors due to the pandemic and have lost all opportunities to generate income from farming this year. “We have no income. So we have returned to marijuana cultivation. We have to feed ourselves somehow,” he said. “If the authorities are really concerned about us and what we are doing, they should offer us solutions rather than branding us criminals.”
In the last few years, both Raksirang and Kailash rural municipalities had implemented a policy wherein families that engaged in marijuana farming were denied government services. But this year the local units have made no such plans. Raj Kumar Malla, chairman of Raksirang Rural Municipality, said: “We made several efforts to control marijuana farming in our local units and to make our villages marijuana free. But we failed in our efforts. We haven’t been able to compensate the farmers who lost their harvest this year so we won’t be able to stop them from cultivating marijuana either”
Local farmers in almost all wards of Raksirang have started growing marijuana this season for a lack of other income-generating options. “The government could not manage chemical fertilisers during the peak cultivation season. Moreover, the farmers could not sell their vegetables during the pandemic. Now they don’t have any other source of income,” said Malla.
The situation is similar in Kailash Rural Municipality.
“The local leaders of the villages have also started cultivating marijuana in their fields. They all need income since the pandemic has driven most of the locals to destitution. Everyone knows it’s illegal but they have no other choice,” said Tanka Bahadur Moktan, chairman of the rural municipality.
Earlier, the local administration in Makwanpur used to deploy police personnel to destroy marijuana farms in Raksirang and Kailash rural municipalities. But the pandemic has put such drives on hold, says Sushil Singh Rathour, superintendent of police at the District Police Office in Hetauda.
“We haven’t been able to mobilise policemen in the villages in the last few months due to the pandemic, but we will soon deploy security personnel in areas where marijuana farming is gaining momentum,” said Rathour. “We will also arrest individuals who are found leasing out their land for marijuana cultivation.”
In the last fiscal year, the District Police Office had destroyed marijuana plants in 563 bighas of land and opium plants cultivated in 89 bighas of land in Makwanpur.