Just until three decades ago, there were over two dozen rice mills operating in Jhapa. The rice produced from these mills would be exported to India then. Today, there are just five mills in operation and most of the rice consumed in the country is imported from India.

Local industrialist Yam Bahadur Shrestha of Bhadrapur rued the plight of rice mills at present.

"As the government has failed to bring forth a protectionist policy regarding rice mills, the same has brought the once vibrant sector down," he said.

"I've been operating rice mill for the past 40- plus years. As far as I know, the government has never brought any policy for subsidised loan nor for anything that would ensure market for the produce of these mills, which is why this sector has declined," he observed.

Though Nepal remained an agricultural country in name, the government hasn't been able to protect farmers and rice mills, Shrestha said.

Citing the example of the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, Shrestha stressed the need of various sorts of government grants to farmers.

"In India, various governments provide up to 100 per cent grant in procurement of agricultural equipment and fertiliser and irrigation, and the government buys farmers' rice if it's not sold. We need something similar in Nepal too," he said, seeking the status of agricultural industry for rice mills.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 12, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.