Nepal is predominantly an agricultural country, where around 70 per cent of the total population is engaged in some sort of farming and livestock rearing.
The govt must invest heavily to modernise the agriculture sector by introducing modern technology and know-how
No substantial change has been seen in the agriculture sector for decades in spite of the government's huge investment in it. The government has allocated Rs 40 billion for the growth of the agriculture sector for the current fiscal year, which includes Rs 1 billion for the establishment of 200 food banks at the local level. The government has also envisioned promoting "one local level, one agriculture product" under the PM Agriculture Modernisation Project. But the budget allocated for agriculture development has remained unutilised due to lack of coordination among the various government agencies and farmers' ignorance about the facilities they are entitled to.
Nepal has huge potential for agricultural growth, given the country's climatic condition. But the youths who are the driving force for agriculture growth are not interested in this sector because of the low motivation from the government, low rate of return from the investment and time spent, and lack of easy access to markets for their produce.
The idea of modernising the country's agriculture sector has also remained on paper only. The country imports around Rs 60 billion worth of food items from India and China annually, while thousands of hectares of arable land remain fallow as thousands of youths have migrated overseas to take up manual jobs. These youths can bring about a sea change in the agriculture sector if they are given incentives and are imparted knowledge on modern farming techniques. Instead of spending billions of rupees in importing food, vegetables, meat and fruits, the government should invest the amount in modernising the farming sector.
Till date, the farmers who grow food, vegetables and fruits do not have easy and hassle-free access to the local markets. It is the middlemen who buy the agriculture produce from the farmers at throwaway prices and sell them to the consumers at exorbitant prices. This is the main reason why the youths are not interested in taking up farming. In order to address this problem, Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market Development Board, a government entity, has now decided to allot 12 stalls to the farmers, who can sell their produce directly to the consumers. This system, if well implemented, can benefit the farmers; discourage the middlemen from making excess profits even while not engaging in farming, and the consumers will also be able to buy food and vegetables at fair prices that directly go into the pockets of the hard-working farmers. The government has also planned to set up vegetables and fruits centres in nine urban areas of the country, where the farmers can sell their produce directly to the consumers. As per the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, it will cost around Rs 6.75 billion to set up the vegetables markets. It is, however, not enough to set up vegetables centres. The most important thing is to modernise the country's agriculture sector by introducing modern technology and know-how along with long-term incentives for the youths who wish to engage in farming.
In the midst of all the disruptions, political instability and chaos that have become the hallmark of this country, if there is one sector that Nepal can take pride in, it is communications. Over the decades, the country has tried to keep pace with the developments taking place in the communications sector in the region and even worldwide, and made available the latest technology to its Nepali consumers. Today, Nepalis have access to gadgets like the mobile, with nearly 40 million mobile connections in January 2021. And there has been a surge in mobile internet users in the past one year thanks to increased coverage of 3G and 4G services.
Now the government is gearing up to test the latest fifth generation (5G) technology in four cities – Kathmandu, Pokhara, Birgunj and Biratnagar – within the current fiscal year. The 5G network is expected to be at least 10 times faster than the 4G LTE and will have greater bandwidth, allowing it to handle many more connected devices than the previous networks. As it provides many opportunities, capabilities as well as challenges, the government, businesses and the general public should have a strategy to take maximum advantage of the 5G service.
A version of this article appears in the print on March 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.