Commercial agriculture: Some positive signs

Farm mechanisation plays a vital role in higher agricultural production, timely sowing or planting, cultivation,inter-cultivation, insect pest control and harvest and post-harvest management

Agriculture practices have dramatically changed in recent years in Nepal, as we have seen some changes in the use of technology, production system, crops/commodities and their cultivars and machinery.

In recent years, young Nepali farmers have been adopting hi-tech production practices. Many commercial vegetable, poultry, cattle, fishery and goat farms, fruit orchards and floriculture farms have been cropped up in the vicinities of the cities.

Youth entrepreneurs and some big business houses have been found involved in these commercial farms using hi-tech production technologies. These are clear signs that agriculture in Nepal is slowly becoming commercial oriented. When farming is done for the sale of agricultural products using high technology to earn money, it is called commercial agriculture. In commercial agriculture, producers are called commercial farmers. They produce the products with the intent of selling them in the markets.

Modern technology and information available for the production and marketing of agricultural products have made agriculture a profitable business.

There is an increasing trend of using labour-saving technologies for crops and livestock production. Farmers have also changed the way they grow crops. For example, the old method of rice transplantation has gradually been replaced by direct seeded rice, which means seeds are put directly in the fields. This method needs less water and labour.

In order to encourage early vegetable production and capture the profitable early market, growers are now using plastic tunnels or hot caps. Furthermore, some farmers have also begun using plastic mulches in combination with tunnels to speed up the harvest date for some crops. Plastic tunnels are small greenhouse-like structures, covering the plants along the row. These tunnels are roughly 18-inch high and 30-inch wide at the base and are erected with wire hoops and covered with clear plastic sheets.

Non-conventional irrigation system is also being adopted. This means water acquisition and its application, both of them or any one of them, is not conventional in nature. At present, both government agencies and many NGOs are promoting non-conventional irrigation system – such as drip and sprinkler irrigations. They are suited for irrigating high value crops under the plastic tunnels.

Another change is the shift towards high value crops/commodities. Empirical analysis of the trend data presents significant increases in the area under horticultural crops across the country. Furthermore, many new crops have gained popularity during this period.

Kiwi fruit is one of them.

The main reasons for such expansion of areas under horticultural crops seem to be: (a) cash-earning opportunities for small farmers because of increasing accessibility through improved road and transport networks; (b) awareness about the nutritional importance of fruits and vegetables; and (c) increased income among urban dwellers. There has been continuous increase in demand of fruits, vegetables, flowers and livestock products. Many farmers have successfully adopted cultivation of different off-season vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, peas, cucumber, tomato and leafy vegetables, using modern technologies.

Bananas are becoming very popular in the Tarai region, where they are grown on a commercial basis. Other important commodities that are being promoted by farmers are sunflower, lentils, mushroom, oranges, tea, coffee, ginger and cardamom. These commodities have high demand in the markets and farmers therefore can sell these items easily.

Although the agricultural development policies are directed to increase cereal crop production, the reality in the field is different. It is mainly due to the shift in the production of these profitable crops/commodities.  Analysis of livestock data shows a declining trend in buffalo and sheep rearing. On the other hand, poultry birds and goat populations are on the rise.

Farm mechanisation plays a vital role in higher agricultural production, timely sowing or planting, cultivation, inter-cultivation, insect pest control and harvest and post-harvest management.

Many farm operations like hoeing, irrigation, harvesting and threshing are performed by machines for reducing production cost and increasing both crop yields and farm income.

Mobile technology is rapidly changing the face of communication even in the most remote areas of the country. Mobile phones have allowed farmers to gain access to market prices before travelling long distances to markets.

However, there are still various places which are beyond the reach of these technologies and machines due mainly to lack of road connectivity. Furthermore, training facility, access to credit, irrigation facility, and lack of skill in business planning are also constraining commercial agriculture. The focus of the government should be on road connectivity, irrigation, use of improved tools and implements, introduction of high-yielding varieties and training on improved production practices to increase crop production. There is still a big gap between demand and production in the agricultural sector. But where there is a gap, there is an opportunity also.

Kaini is former director general of Department of Agriculture