EDITORIAL: Banana bane

Govt policy must aim at modernising banana farming; raising tariff on imported fruit is not a lasting solution

Every time when the government faces wrath from Nepali farmers over their weak competitive edge in domestic market, the only option the government thinks best is raising agricultural tax on imported goods. It may give some solace to the farmers who may take advantage of the government policy, but it does not provide a lasting solution. As the country’s agriculture production base is very weak, raising tariff on imported food and fruits will not help Nepali farmers in the long run. We have no other option than to import food, fruits, edible oil and vegetables unless we increase our production capacity and productivity in the agriculture sector, which is still in nascent stage compared to other countries in the region. Nepal, on an average, imports food items worth Rs 50 billion and more than two-thirds of them come from India. Mechanisation and modernisation of our agriculture sector can address the problem faced by the farmers who are still following traditional approach, that too in limited areas. We need to change the traditional approach to become self-reliant in the agriculture sector to ensure food security and food sovereignty.

After the sugar mill owners pressed the government to raise tariff on imported sugar and impose a quantitative restriction on it, the farmers involved in banana farming are now calling on the government to take similar measures to promote banana farming and make it competitive in the domestic marker. Considering their plight, the government is also mulling over raising agriculture tax on imported bananas. The government has already imposed 10 per cent tariff on the imported bananas. More than 50,000 farmers are engaged in banana farming in over 18,000 hectares of land, where around 700,000 tonnes of bananas are produced annually. However, the annual domestic demand stands at around 1.5 million tonnes. The farmers are pressing the government to ensure domestic market for their produce.

Raising tariff on imported bananas may not be the panacea of all the problems faced by farmers. They also need to engage in mass production by applying modern techniques and technology that will help reduce the production costs and enhance quality of the products. These are preconditions to gain competitive edge over imported bananas in the domestic market. If we fail to increase our capacity in a cost effective manner, the imported ones will easily take over our domestic market, let alone exporting our products in international markets. Consumers tend to buy the best items available in the market. They hardly care whether they are domestic products or imported ones. This is the nature of market economy. The government policies and programmes must be directed towards encouraging farmers in modern and mechanised farming. For this to materialise, the government should provide subsidy on purchase of machinery, equipment, quality seeds and fertilisers along with a provision of research and training to farmers or firms. The government policy of setting up banana zones in pocket areas is a positive move. But the policies need to be translated into reality by adding inputs to the target group to achieve competitive edge in banana farming.

Industrial pollution

Pollution is a major concern in today’s world. And the issue is now being taken up by people from outside the Capital city also. Social activists from Sunsari and Morang on Monday submitted a memorandum to the National Human Rights Commission, drawing attention of the rights watchdog to growing environmental problems caused by the industries in those districts. The two eastern Tarai districts are home to many industries. Locals of these districts have also drawn the attention of local and provincial governments to the rising air pollution and its impact on human health.

As the country strives to secure steady growth and spur development, we are as a matter of fact in a catch-22 situation. To achieve economic growth, the country needs to set up more industries, which will then contribute to air pollution. Today, air pollution has emerged as the biggest threat to human health. Air pollution is an invisible killer. So, there is a need to strike a fine balance and formulate wise policies so as to achieve growth and minimise industrial pollution. Governments at all levels must come up with prudent policies to achieve a win-win situation. Or else, the cost of air pollution will be huge.