Exodus of youths leaves arable land uncultivated

Agricultural sector’s contribution to GDP has fallen from 32pc in 2011 to 27pc at present

Kathmandu, January 25

The ‘agriculture diary’ published by the government this year has it that 1.3 million hectare arable land is uncultivated in the country. A total of 3.9 million hectare land is arable in Nepal.

On the other hand, nearly four million Nepali youths are working in 84 countries to earn bread and butter for their families.

These two data portray a grim picture. It also reminds us of the opinion of revered leader BP Koirala, who had given an interview to the BBC World Service five decades back, that arable land in rural areas would be left uncultivated as long as the youths were centred in cities. He had argued that the demands of the rural people had to be addressed to retain youths in the villages. He had underscored the need to create an environment that retained youths in rural areas.

But as the present data shows the condition is exactly the opposite. Youths are leaving the country for foreign jobs, leaving tens of thousands hectares arable land uncultivated.

Villagers are in need of agricultural roads to supply their produce to the markets. The milk, honey, fruits, goats and vegetables produced at the local levels have to be transported to cities. It could have helped not only in sustenance of daily life but also helped rural youths earn good income. But, this did not happen.

When the government realised this and brought the rules and Acts, it was too late as hundreds of thousand youths had left the country for foreign jobs.

Former Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Chakrapani Khanal said, “Arable land were plotted and land pooling continued unabated. Now, if anyone wishes to run an agricultural farm, it is difficult to integrate the land.”

The government has not been able to manage agricultural roads in appropriate locations, proper market, irrigation and easy flow of agricultural loan for sustainable development of agriculture in the long term.

As a result, arable land has been fragmented, thus, turning it unproductive in the name of land plotting by the land mafia.

Rampant land plotting has become a means of amassing income for the land mafia and it is still uncontrolled. Even public land is being captured in the name of plotting. Livestock businesses are under threat due to lack of sufficient pastures because of the capture of such land for plotting purpose.

In a period of 55 years (since the enforcement of the Land Reform Act-1964 to 2019), Nepal got 35 agriculture ministers. But agriculture production is declining.

Agricultural Census of 2011 showed that the contribution of agricultural sector to the gross domestic product was only 32 per cent. Now it has been further reduced to 27.

Rural agricultural economy is capable of playing a significant role in the development of Nepal. The government has shown no noticeable initiative for land pooling.

The government in the budget for fiscal year 2018-19 floated a plan to make the country fully food self-sufficient in the next five years, but the situation is just the opposite.

According to secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Yubak Dhwaj GC, food import doubled in comparison to production in this period. The government has brought a plan to make the country fully self-reliant in food grain by fiscal year 2021-22.

The production of the country’s major staple crop paddy has increased by 460,000 metric tonnes while the import of rice has also increased by 767,000 metric tonnes.

The Land Act 1964 has made provisions for land pooling through exchange of land, collective farming by cooperatives and community, leasing land, the federal government and local government acquiring land and distributing it to farmers, arrangement for a single person to cultivate a piece of land and integration of fragmented land.

However, the topics mentioned in the Land Act and Regulations have not been fully implemented till date. The Land Act 1964 has determined the minimum unit of agricultural land at 350 square metres and the urban housing and commercial land at 85 square metres for the Tarai and Inner Tarai region.

Similarly, the minimum agricultural land has been determined at 250 square metres and at 80 square metres for urban and commercial purposes inside Kathmandu Valley. The minimum land determined for agriculture purposes in other hilly region is 125 square metres and 80 square metres for urban and commercial purposes.