EDITORIAL: Boost agriculture

In Nepal arable land is fragmented in small holdings. But fragmented land does not contribute to commercial exploitation of the agricultural potential

Two years back the Ministry of Agriculture Development (MoAD) had introduced the Agriculture Mechanization Promotion Policy, but this has yet to be implemented. The strategy has several good points as, if properly implemented, it can provide a boost to agricultural productivity by, among other things, reducing the cost of production. Over the years the number of youths opting to migrate to foreign countries for jobs has been going up, resulting in an acute shortage of labour in agriculture. As a consequence, the cost of production is growing in an unprecedented manner. The shortage of labour at home has also reduced the agricultural productivity of the country, with a consequent fall in farm output. Not surprisingly, many areas in the rural sector are now barren. A solution to this plight that is costing the country dear is the implementation of the agriculture mechanization policy.

Although the government has been levying a nominal customs duty on the import of agricultural machinery the farmers are unable to take advantage of this because the majority of them are small-holders. These farmers cannot afford to buy expensive implements and pay for the relatively high cost of their maintenance. The promotion of cooperatives for the import of agricultural tools and also the provision for incentives to purchase or hire them could substantially help boost farm productivity. The government says that it is working to extend these facilities that would enable the small-holders as well to lease these tools from the cooperatives at a reasonable charge.

The agricultural sector in the country is presently in a very difficult state. Among the various problems it encounters is the lack of finance as the majority of farmers are only small-holders. Moreover, although there is much talk of providing irrigation facilities but hardly any action has been taken. The majority of farmers still have to rely on rain water showing the desperate situation confronting agricultural production. Although it is believed that two-thirds of the workforces in Nepal are engaged in the agriculture sector, their contribution to the national economy is increasingly on the decline. As such, as agricultural mechanization has the potential to reduce the workforce dependent on agriculture it would be possible to do this by making this sector competitive through higher yields. Agricultural mechanization would also help reduce poverty. So far, agriculture in Nepal has remained merely at a subsistence level besides efforts by the government to mechanize and improve it. Moreover, only 24 per cent of the farmers in the Terai avail of some type of mechanization for farming purposes. This leaves a lot of scope for boosting farm production there by greater mechanization of agriculture. In Nepal arable land is fragmented in small holdings. But fragmented land does not contribute to commercial exploitation of the agricultural potentials. The private sector too should be attracted to agriculture in a big way, but the policies and incentives should be tailored likewise so that country can make big strides in agriculture, contributing to the national economy in a tangible way.

Give priority

It is expected to take several years for all the school buildings destroyed or rendered unusable by the major earthquake of April 25, 2015, and its powerful aftershocks. The earthquake devastated 9,353 schools in 59 districts and some 1,200 students and 68 teachers perished. Fourteen districts were declared the worst affected. Transitional Learning Centres (TLCs) have been set up there to run classes in the absence of the proper school buildings. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is to upgrade 125 TLCs in the 14 districts and it has already set aside Rs.1.6 million for each of them to upgrade its TLC.

The importance of TLCs cannot be overestimated for some time to come. But during the transition period, too, the government owes to the people that it upgrades the TLCs so that students can get their education in a reasonable or tolerable school environment. Tens of thousands of students cannot be allowed to suffer just because the new school buildings have not been built. The MoE had set up 8,000 TLCs in 31 districts. A further 4,000 TLCs have been built by various national and international agencies. The health, education and safety of the students should receive high priority. This priority should be extended to all schools whose buildings were destroyed.