EDITORIAL: Ensure food security

The government should continue its efforts more effectively to have the blockade lifted without compromising the core interests of the country

For about three months the country has been facing an acute supply crunch, including in petroleum products. This has led to skyrocketing prices of a number of goods, apart from the difficulty in getting them in the first place. Those who have been smuggling, hoarding, and black-marketing such products are making a killing. The involvement of some government employees in promoting such practices for personal gain have led to increased public calls for simplifying the distribution system as well as making it fair and effective, particularly the distribution of diesel, petrol, kerosene, cooking gas and fuel wood. Indeed, the present government and political leaders appear serious and concerned about improving the supply situation in the country. But so far, the distribution mechanism has left a lot to be desired. Special attention should be directed to this deficiency.

Now, the government has moved to minimize the scarcity of food grains by deciding to purchase them, mainly paddy, produced within the country and distribute it through its own agencies. Private traders look for profit, and they show less concern for the hardship of others; at the slightest of excuses, they do not hesitate to raise prices. At a time of such acute shortages, the government has taken the positive step of directing the Ministry of Agricultural Development, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Commerce and Supplies to ensure purchase and sale of the paddy produced in Nepal. Nowadays, Nepal is a net importer of food grains. In 2014-15, Nepal produced 4.79 million metric tons of paddy valued at Rs. 96.4 billion, whereas paddy and rice imports from India during the period stood at Rs. 24.76 billion. Nepal also imports several other kinds of food grains such as maize and wheat as well as pulses. Therefore, as long as the blockade on Nepal remains, food supply is likely to be short. In such circumstances, allowing the market to operate as in normal times would only give unscrupulous traders a field day. The ultimate sufferers would be the common people.

In initial stages, upcoming shortages of several essential items, such as medicines, were not anticipated by the authorities, and this mistake or negligence has created a scarcity of various medicines in various parts of the country. Allegations have also surfaced that government officials are trying to buy medicines even in cases when donors are ready to give, tempted by the greed for commission on purchases. If such motives and practices are shown by officials, the government leaders should effectively move to foil such designs, taking punitive action in the process. In emergency situations, cost-benefit is not always the main factor; urgent supply may be the main concern. But in most cases, cost-benefit calculations should be done and measures should be taken not to waste the public money in avoidable cases. The government should also show a similar concern, as it has shown in avoiding artificial shortages, in a number of other commodities. At the same time, it should continue its efforts more effectively to have the blockade lifted without compromising the core interests of the country on the one hand and speeding up work on starting supply lines from other countries as well, particularly from China, on the other.

An alternative

A team of parliamentary Development Committee has reached Mustang to conduct a feasibility study for the operation of the Korala border point adjoining Tibet. The government has already decided to open as many border points as possible to ease the supplies of essential goods. The parliamentary team will visit the Korala border point, inspect the existing roads and other physical infrastructure that needs to be built there.

The Korala border point is just 275 kilometers away from Pokhara and 90 kilometers away from Jomsom. The business community of Daulagiri and Gandaki zones had been drawing the government’s attention towards opening this point as a major trade route between Nepal and China. The Chinese authorities closed this route 12 years ago though two agreements were reached between the two sides in 2003 and 2012. It will be the shortest trade route between Tibet and India if it is fully developed along with the expansion of roads and customs-related infrastructure.