Our agriculture is still by and large subsistence-based. Farmers have limited access to improved seeds, technology and markets
A much-repeated statement about Nepal is it is primarily an agricultural country, with around 65 percent of the population employed in agriculture and agriculture contributing 32 percent to our GDP. Often the problems of agriculture do not receive the attention of our policymakers.
Our agriculture is still by and large subsistence-based. Farmers have limited access to improved seeds, new technology and market opportunities. Majority of peasants derive their living from fragmented plots of land. Government programs to introduce irrigation facilities and supply fertilizers have been inadequate.
There is also a lack of strong commitment from political parties to improve our agriculture sector. Typically, our agriculture plans and programs change along with government change.
Lack of energy and investment-friendly environment hobble our agricultural sector. Land possession is greatly valued but farming is regarded as low-grade profession. This is why a large number of youths are leaving villages for employment abroad, leaving vast swathes of agricultural land fallow.
Our agricultural productivity is low, with cereal crop yield of just 2.7 kg per hectare. Dependency on imported food is huge. Against this backdrop, saying that Nepal is an agricultural country sounds misplaced. If we are to be recognized as such, there must be tangible progress in agriculture. But how?
First, we need to establish farming and agriculture as respectable occupation. For this we need to change people’s views about agriculture and farming. The political leaders should not only talk about agriculture, they should also work for agriculture development. They should respect farming and get involved in it, when possible. For instance Gagan Thapa’s involvement in farming has generated hope among the youth. More leaders need to follow suit.
Unless political leaders themselves accord high value to agriculture, its development won’t be possible. Take the US. The first US President, George Washington, personally used to supervise the department of agriculture, despite his various other duties. His personal engagement greatly helped the sector, as early as 19th century. We have no such example in Nepal.
Second, we need to improve our land governance. Without proper land governance, it won’t be possible to increase productivity. But land governance has been a political hot potato since the 1950s. The land issue was accorded high priority in the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed in 2006. But provisions therein are yet to be implemented, even as we claim to have concluded the peace process.
All the past and present efforts on land reform have failed to scientifically manage agricultural land and improve productivity. We need policies to integrate ownership, sustainable land management and proper use of agricultural land for meaningful land reform.
In the last few years, Nepal has initiated some good measures to establish agriculture as a prestigious occupation. The President Excellent Farmer Award was started in 2014 and Kalu Hamal, a banana farmer of Tikapur Municipality in Kailali district, got this award on the occasion of 12th National Paddy Day in 2014.
The start of ‘Prime Minister’s agricultural modernization program’ from this fiscal year is also an important step toward making agriculture attractive. Such programs need to be continued.
Likewise, more investment is needed for capital formation in agriculture. Agricultural implements and machinery, buildings, irrigation facilities, market infrastructure, agriculture roads, storage facilities and other constructions are examples of such capital.
Human capital and institutional capital are also crucial element of agricultural capital in other countries. We need to do the same. Capital is not only important for increased output and productivity; it also allows us resources to conduct vital researches. In fact, capital is the main requirement for technological progress.
But instead of increasing, capital investment in agriculture and allied sectors has been decreasing in recent years.
Capital investment in public sector should also include pocket area development, land reclamation, afforestation and development of state farms for research. There are more than 60 state-owned agriculture farms in Nepal. But they are considered burdens. The management of these farms has always been an issue, particularly during program and budget discussions at the National Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance.
If these farms are properly utilized, they may also function as effective schools for farmers where practical trainings can be organized. Farmers will then acquire practical knowledge by seeing and doing. The government should thus boost their farms by providing adequate budget and resources.