Retaining skilled and professional manpower in agriculture is a major challenge in Nepal, as in other SAARC countries.
Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Nepal’s apex body for agricultural research, has failed to fill various vacant positions. One reason was lack of adequate incentive to attract qualified agriculturists. In fact, highly qualified and talented experts needed for NARC have either already migrated to developed countries or intend to do so soon. This applies to non-skilled agriculture workforce as well. Slowly but surely, our labor force is giving up agriculture activities.
Retaining skilled and professional manpower in agriculture is a major challenge in Nepal, as is the case with other SAARC countries. This is happening in Nepal mainly because of the mismatch between education provided by the government and the real needs of people, and political instability that has resulted in low economic growth. State-led approaches to economic development, slow pace of restructuring agriculture in line with the federal setup, and lack of patriotic feeling among our professionals are other causes.
To ensure commercial growth of agriculture, we need competent, result-oriented professionals capable of delivering effective, efficient and responsive services to farming communities. Such human resources are in short supply due to steady outmigration.
It takes a lot of time and investment to produce capable professionals needed in the field of agriculture. Production of an agricultural professional with master’s degree requires around 20 years—from primary level education to master’s degree—of studies and around two million rupees. Imparting them with additional professional skills calls for even more time and money.
The few professionals we have today will also be soon gone. Their absence will have a debilitating impact on agriculture.
Currently, around 2,000 agricultural professionals are working in different organizations in Nepal. Educational institutions, concerned government departments and donor agencies are investing their precious resources on these professionals. Agricultural and Forestry University (AFU), Tribhuvan University (TU) and Purbanchal University offer technical and vocational educations in agriculture. The Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT), various government departments and financial institutions and NGOs and INGOs are also providing short-term vocational training on agriculture. These are good initiatives but for smooth development of agriculture, we should start programs to attract more skilled and talented professionals and to retain the few the country already has.
For this, concerned ministries, donor agencies, NGOs, educational institutions and private sector need to be more proactive. They need to collectively identify priorities and innovative strategies for incentive package that includes housing, salaries and allowances matching with inflation. Besides, the package should also cover health, family education, easy access to soft loan and social recognition. This will attract the youth to join agriculture sector and professionals will also start working within Nepal. NGOs and private sector often offer attractive financial incentives but the financial incentives provided to professionals by our government are low, compared to similar provisions in other SAARC countries.
The government should, therefore, raise the salary and benefits of its agriculture professionals on par with inflation and standard of SAARC countries. However, this alone won’t do. There should be social incentives for agriculture professionals, such as respect for their talents and expertise. Mutual commitment from the government and professionals is what is needed.
Affordable housing is important for professionals. Experience from other countries suggests that housing facility can be an economic driver to retain professionals. The government can introduce programs for providing long term housing loan to the professionals at subsidized interest or they can be given apartments at subsidized rates.
We don’t have measures that ensure timely exposure and technology training for professionals so that they can be updated with changing technological and other new issues. The opportunity for higher studies after basic entry qualifications is limited, and nomination, funds and policies for education leave are not encouraging.
The government has been unable to address institutional needs and individual career aspirations for different expertise. This is unlike a number of organizations that have successfully attracted and retained skilled and professional staff by giving them appropriate training opportunities.
Provision of critical services—such as potable water, road network and regular health checks—at the working sites also help with retention of professionals. International experience suggests that adequate health and education facilities, particularly for post-primary children, are also important for professionals when they are making career choices. As such, child care facilities can be set up in agricultural offices.
Agriculture sector is one of the largest contributors to GDP, employs around 60 percent population and provides livelihood to the majority of Nepalis. Again, our priority should be to attract more and more people into this sector and retain skilled and professional manpower that we have today.