The govt must focus on human resource development to improve the living condition of the region

Sudurpaschim Province is lagging behind in terms of development and economic progress despite the fact that it has abundant natural resources for agricultural development, tourism, herbal farming and livestock rearing. It took several years to connect the Far-West region with the rest of the country by road.

Most of the hilly and mountainous districts have yet to be connected with roads. The living condition of Sudurpaschim could be improved provided that the federal, provincial and local governments focus on commercial farming, hydropower projects, industry, tourism and horticulture. The three tiers of the government need to identify those sectors with high potential that will not only expedite economic activities there, but also help generate employment opportunities for the youths who would not require to migrate to India or abroad. Most of the youths from the region migrate to India's hilly and mountainous regions to work as seasonal labourers. The provincial government should focus on developing horticulture and herbal farming in the mountainous districts where they can be employed around the year.

According to the latest report carried out by Nepal Rastra Bank, the province is also facing challenges in expanding people's access to financial literacy and finance, infrastructure and qualified human resources for loan mobilisation. Another challenge is associated with lack of institutional capacity of the provincial government to speed up development projects in time. Expanding the pocket areas for cash crops, determining the minimum support prices for them and using modern technology in the agriculture sector are other challenges that need immediate attention from all the government agencies and elected representatives.

Kailali and Kanchanpur are the only plain districts in the region, where agriculture potential is very high.

If the government completes the Ranijamara-Kuleria Irrigation Project and the Mahakali Irrigation Project in time, these projects can irrigate a combined total of 71,820 hectares of land, making the entire region self-sufficient in food. Hydropower is another area for fast economic progress, which has remained untapped.

The proposed West-Seti reservoir project could be a game changer in the region's overall economic development if it is constructed either through foreign direct investment or internal resources.

Till date, the Far-West region has only one hydropower project - the 20 MW Chameliya - that provides electricity to the region. The federal government needs to build more hydel projects in Sudurpaschim Province to ensure balanced development of the country. Olives that grow in the wild in Bajhang and Bajura, the poorest districts of the country, can help improve the living condition of the people immensely should the government come out with a plan for commercial production of olive oil, which could also be exported to earn foreign currency. If developed in a planned manner, apple and herbal farming in the mountainous districts can also improve the economic condition of the region. What we need to do is to focus on human resource development with suitable knowledge and technology to improve the people's living condition of the region.

Drug menace

That 4,231 people were arrested in the first nine months of the current fiscal year (mid-July to mid-April) for possessing, peddling and smuggling drugs is alarming to say the least. According to the security forces, this year's arrest of drug traffickers is expected to surpass the 4,632 persons arrested last year once the statistics are compiled for the remaining three months. Apart from hard drugs, namely cocaine and heroin, drugs seized by police include hashish, cannabis, opium and psychoactive substances capable of changing a person's mood and behaviour.

Given Nepal's unregulated open border to the south and lax checking at the airport, Nepal has become a transit point for drug smugglers. The arrest of so many people for drug-related crimes shows that the Narcotics Control Bureau's performance has been effective. But it also means that drug trafficking is a lucrative trade, which will require much more vigilance at the border points with India and at the international airports of Nepal. While Nepal is not a big market for hard drugs, the confiscation of psychoactive substances in large numbers calls for an investigation as to why our youths are turning to them.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 14, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.