EDITORIAL: Dearth of technicians

Greenhouse farming in Nepal has been more of a bane than a boon because of a dearth of technicians

Greenhouse farming has immense potential in Nepal. Nepal can become self-sufficient in green vegetables and fruits provided the government supports the investors with modern technology, finance and agro-scientists. The country has established a separate university with a view to modernising the agriculture sector and substituting food imports. But the university has largely failed to cater its services to the farmers and investors, who want to adopt modern techniques that can help transform our subsistence agriculture into a modern one. A greenhouse is a structure covered with a transparent material in which fruits, green vegetables or flower crops can be grown in a controlled environment. Farming in a greenhouse can provide local employment for the educated youths. As the fruits and green vegetables are grown under controlled conditions, the productivity of a crop is very high compared to other crops grown in open fields.

The government has given topmost priority to adopting modern farming methods in the rural areas under the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project (PMAMP), which came into effect in 2017. But the project has largely failed to yield the desired result as the farmers who have made huge investment in greenhouse farming are finding it difficult to get experts and technicians, who can handle greenhouse farming. Kham Ghale Agro Farm at Malepatan, spread over an area of five ropanis, and Hemja Agro Farm at Hemja with an area of 22 ropanis, both in Kaski, are a case in point. Both the greenhouse farms have received grants totaling Rs 15.2 million from the PMAMP, which has also provided technicians to supervise their farms. Both the farms have also made an investment of Rs 6.3 million combined. However, the farms, which produce Japanese cucumbers, spinach, green beans and tomatoes, are running under-capacity due to a dearth of technicians.

The investors said they have no problem with the market for their produce. The only problem they constantly face is a dearth of technicians, who must help maintain and control the temperature inside the greenhouse. Even off-season vegetables can be grown provided that the temperature inside the greenhouse is kept under strict control. These are just two instances of how greenhouse farming has become a failure in the country, not due to lack of funding and farmers’ enthusiasm, but because of a drought of experts in the hi-tech field. The investment made by the government under this project is sure to go to waste. Before making an investment in a new field, the government should carry out detailed study about the market potential, availability of skilled hands and technology that is appropriate. Learning lessons from this case, the government agencies should first produce trained human resource in the given field – experts in greenhouse technology in this case – and then deploy them in the designated areas so that they can teach the farmers about the effective use of modern technology. After facing difficulty at the grassroots level, government officials have just started discussion to resolve the woes faced by the farmers - a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Curb smuggling

Nepal’s long, open border with India makes it difficult to regulate it, and gives smugglers a field day. Accurate figures are hard to come by, but the illegal trade between the two countries is said to be quite high, and is a matter of concern for both the sides. Local traders in Siraha, in central Tarai, are complaining that there has been a spurt in the smuggling of goods and commodities from India to Nepal. The smugglers are using alternative roads to evade customs duty.

Smuggling of goods and commodities into Nepal not only deprives the government of revenue but also makes it difficult for the traders who pay double customs duty in India and Nepal to compete with the flood of cheap products. Many local industries have shut down also as a result. To take one example, the smuggling of textiles is said to be worth many times more than what is documented at the customs. It is thus in the interest of the government, business community and the industry people to stop the smuggling of goods across the border. If there is a resolve, there is no reason why Nepal’s borders to the south and north cannot be regulated.