EDITORIAL: Cash in on crops

The government policy should be aimed at promoting agro-business and cash crops which can create jobs for youths in rural areas

Given the suitable climatic condition and varied topography, Nepal has huge potential of agro-based industries. Despite being an agro-based economy, the country imports foods—even cereal crops—to feed its majority of population. Its growth has remained stagnated due to government’s total apathy towards this sector. Hundreds of thousands of youths migrate every year either to Malaysia or the Gulf countries in search of manual jobs. Such types of jobs—even better than what they do overseas—can be created in every nook and corner of the country provided that the government comes up with consistent policies and programmes to support the agriculture sector, including cash crops, and agro-based industries. Ensuring food security and food sovereignty are two fundamental issues that a country cannot overlook to drive the economy forward and achieve sustainable development. According to Trade and Export Promotion Centre, Nepal imported food worth Rs 40 billion in fiscal 2016/17, mainly from India. Had the government invested in the agriculture sector, we could have saved the amount and become self-reliant in food. At present, agriculture is the only sector that can create jobs to a growing population. It is possible to do so by investing in cash crops.

The cardamom business is a case in point. But it has received the least priority from the government though it has been listed as one of the exporting items. Large cardamom is the high value cash crop and main source of cash income for farmers in the hill districts of the country. Over 22,000 households in 37 districts are engaged in cardamom farming. Nepal is the largest cardamom producing country with 68 per cent share in the market, followed by India (22 per cent) and Bhutan (9 per cent). Taplejung, Panchthar, Ilam, Sankhuwasabha, Lamjung and Dhankuta are the major cardamom producing districts. These districts produce over 80 per cent of the total national production. However, the total production of large cardamom accounts for less than 10,000 metric tonnes per annum. Farmers too are facing reduction in yield due to viral diseases.

Despite the fact that Nepali farmers produce the largest amount of cardamom, they do not have control over market as the produce is sold to India as raw material due to absence of processing plants in the country. Nepal exported large cardamom worth Rs 4.60 billion last fiscal. Price of the high value crop — mostly used as spices and in Ayurvedic medicine and in cosmetics — also keeps fluctuating, forcing the farmers either to keep it in stock or sell it at throw-away prices. In order to make it a sustainable exportable business, the government intervention is a must. As in the case of sugarcane and rice, the state also can fix support price for it. As the figures have shown that a large number of rural households are engaged in this sector, despite facing difficulties, the government should encourage business community to set up processing plants offering various incentives. The government policy should be aimed at exporting agro-based goods as finished products, not as raw materials. No country has gained prosperity by exporting raw materials. We need to gain expertise in areas where we have immense potential to excel.

Promoting tourism

Kichakbadh is a tourist destination in Jhapa, but it seems to have fallen into oblivion. Spread over 10 bigaha of land in the south of Bhadrapur Municipality, the 2,000-year-old palace was found when the Department of Archaeology excavated the area. The place of worship has two statutes that depict Bhimsen slaying Kichak. Kichakbadh can be a major tourist destination, but hardly are there any initiatives to promote this site. This is just an example how Nepal has not been able to exploit it tourism potential.

Whenever we talk about tourism, Nepal has always tried to brand itself as a country of Himalayas. But there are so many other places which have failed to catch visitors’ attention. As a result, Nepal’s tourism mostly gets limited to trekking, a visit to Pokhara, walking along Thamel streets and circling Boudhanath Stupa. As the country plans to celebrate Visit Nepal 2020 with an aim to play host to 2 million tourists, there is a need to identify and promote tourist destinations of different sorts which carry cultural, historic and religious significance. Nepal needs to rebrand its image to attract 2 million tourists.