COVID19 Pandemic: A Striking Indication to Gain Self-Reliance in the Agriculture Sector of Nepal
The human race has time and again witnessed several unprecedented epidemics, wars, famine, and other disasters. At present, the global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has crumbled the overall economic, financial, and health aspects of even the most powerful nations so far. Health care alone has been prioritized the most and while protectionist measures are being applied from the health sector, a global food crisis is here on our doorsteps.
Nepal, as stated by the 2011 A.D. census is an agricultural country with 73.6% of the population involved in it. However, in 2018 itself, Nepal’s agricultural import’s bill crossed NPR 200 billion which was a fivefold increment in the last nine years. Earlier in 2015, the disastrous earthquake had caused a total damage of USD 255 million in the agricultural sector only; leaving around 5 million without food. Soon after this calamity, the third Indian blockade resulted in trade restrictions from India, which alone has an import share of 64.95%. The picture painted by the census data seemed completely different from the reality of our sheer dependency on others for food supply. ( Image Source )
So, Nepal must be self-sufficient, we concluded. That was the spirit then, at least among some. After five years, the crisis of the COVID-19 outbreak has occurred. Now, in a situation where the heavy exporting countries have been locked down; with their economics disrupted, how can we maintain our basic food supply is a billion-dollar question.
Starting from the local level, the worldwide lockdown has affected the harvest, plantation, post-harvest, availability of field workers, and most importantly, the supply chain. Interruptions in the world food supplies have already started. For instance, Kazakhstan, the biggest source of wheat flour, has banned exports along with Vietnam and Russia. And soon when India, Nepal’s largest exporting partner, imposes a trade ban, Nepalese will once again relive a part of the history.
The COVID-19 catastrophe has again made us realize the necessity of a long term agriculture development strategy. Agriculture, as a profession has always been considered a drudgery. Youths, the probable workforce tend to migrate abroad or choose labor jobs. Similarly, lack of irrigation, seeds, tools, machinery, and ineffectiveness of agricultural policies, has caused another struggle. In the fiscal year 2017, Rs 800 million, allocated to the agriculture sector remained unspent. The reasons behind such a lag are inefficient policymaking, inadequate evidence-based analysis, and mostly political and institutional.
In the first place, building a strong foundation of our crippled agriculture system is a must. Only 15.1% of the total land is arable and only 1.2% of the land grows permanent crops (that are not replanted after harvest). Soil erosion, deforestation has led hectares of land to go barren which makes such lands a resource of utilization. For this, hundreds of digital and mechanical techniques are available today, which have already been successful in countries like Japan and India. In the meantime, the classification of farmers can be done to identify and implement the programs accordingly. The least government can do is to encourage the farmers by providing friendly loans, production, storage, supply facilities, and many more. Likewise, investment in developing trained manpower is the most likely way to get drastic results in the long run. Incentives, academic opportunities, uncorrupted education system are some ways to help youths learn and apply in their own country.
Secondly, involvement from the individual level is also mandatory. Several “Kaushikheti” programs providing necessary inputs and regular supervision have already been launched in cities like Kathmandu. This has proven a great help in the time of this crisis.( Image Source )
The Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP) has been in implementation with a commitment to gain self-reliance. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) has also issued a billion dollars investment to boost productivity and food self-sufficiency through local production. However, to have a positive result at a greater level, the effectiveness of budget and policies issued by the government is essential.
Catastrophes don’t come with their bell ringing. It is a vital time for self-realization and self-action. If the nation and its people once again put a blindfold to this havoc, Nepal may slide into another humanitarian disaster – this time of man’s own making.
BSc. Ag, 1st Semester
AFU, Central Campus