‘Nepal needs to revive battered agro sector’

Kathmandu, May 29

As the fastest growing region in the world, South Asia’s path toward ending hunger and malnutrition will have global impacts far beyond the continent. The Global Food Policy Report, the flagship publication of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), provides an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events in the past year, and examines key challenges and opportunities for the coming year. In Nepal, this is centred on building resilience, reviving the battered agricultural sector, and increasing food security following last year’s deadly earthquake.

“Last year’s earthquake had a devastating impact on Nepal, sending the country’s food security into a tailspin,” said IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan. “Farmers must be plugged back into the food chains that broke when the earthquake hit, and that means reconnecting them with the technologies, the infrastructure, and the markets necessary to take their products from farm to fork.”

Though in recent years about two-thirds of Nepali workers worked in agriculture, the country has slipped from a net exporter of food to a net importer. Against a backdrop of food price volatility, it’s important that adequate safety nets are in place: the per cent of households relying on food assistance skyrocketed from less than one-tenth of a per cent before the earthquake to 35 per cent after, according to the World Food Programme.

Immediately after the earthquake, 80 per cent of the most food insecure households lost their entire food stock and 55 per cent of households overall lost at least half their food stock. A strong post-disaster recovery can lead to long-term development that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly — all hallmarks of a resilient food system.

The government has announced various programmes in fiscal budget 2016-17 to boost agriculture productivity. It has envisaged consolidating small holder farmers through cooperatives, which are expected to address the major barrier to boost agriculture production. In addition, the budget has also announced to expand irrigation facility, increase agriculture extension services, provide subsidy on agriculture machineries, distribute quality seeds and also provide cheaper credit. In addition, the fiscal budget also announced grants of over 50 per cent to set up cold storage facilities, collection centres and agriculture marts.

IFPRI suggested Nepal to embark on massive mechanisation in agriculture sector to boost production. Increased use of technologies to counter labour shortages and enacting safety net policies such as an employment guarantee are critical to achieving food security — which must be the top priority for Nepal’s recovery.

Moving forward, it will be important to strengthen nutrition programmes. In the 2000s, Nepal was among the top countries in the world for reduction in under nutrition, but the earthquake shifted priorities and funding — and can threaten the health of Nepal’s next generation. The budget must mirror the fact that it’s not just about the amount of food people eat, but the nutritional quality of that food.