EDITORIAL: Farmers’ woe

This has happened largely because the government has failed to crack down on the industrialists for duping the farmers

It’s a farmer’s woe whose end is nowhere in sight. It’s been years since many sugar mills have not cleared their dues to the farmers for the sugarcane purchased.

Despite the efforts by the government to have the dues cleared, the industrialists have not obliged. Sugarcane is a cash crop that is harvested only once a year, and depriving the farmers of their payment puts them in a lot of distress. For one, they cannot meet their daily household expenses, and, worse still, many cannot repay the loans taken to purchase, among other things, fertilisers, machinery and other inputs. Domestic sugar mills have been unwilling to clear the dues to the farmers citing heavy losses suffered in running their factories due to huge cheap imports of the commodity from India and Pakistan some three years ago. A flimsy excuse that has discouraged many a farmer from growing sugarcane, as is evident from its output in Sarlahi in southeast Nepal. The district used to produce about 3.5 million quintals of sugarcane in the past, but its production is likely to be just about half that yield this year. So how can Nepal achieve self-sufficiency in sugar? Different sugar industries owe the farmers a whopping Rs 1.2 billion, with Sri Ram Sugar Mills alone owing Rs 350 million, including to its staff. One industry – Annapurna Sugar and General Industries – has been holding up payment of about Rs 330 million to thousands of farmers for the past five years. This has happened largely because the government has failed to crack down on the industrialists while paying only lip service to the meek farmers to resolve the issue. It is for reasons like these and faulty government policies that Nepal has not been able to become self-sufficient in sugar. Nepal’s biggest and most modern sugar mill at Birgunj, built with assistance of the then Soviet Union, for instance, closed down soon after the advent of multi-party democracy because of political intervention and party politics.

It was producing about 17,000 tons of sugar in the Nineties.

The government must decide whether it wants to produce all of the country’s demand for sugar in the country itself or keep importing billions of rupees worth of the commodity year after year. It cannot be talking about creating jobs in the country while allowing cheap imports and smuggling through the porous border to continue. If it is serious about industrialising Nepal, then it must in all seriousness provide all the support to the entrepreneurs. On the other hand, industrialists must stick to ethical business practices, such as making timely payments to the farmers and not creating artificial shortages for small gains. Industries are also known to be taking the locals for granted, discharging harmful effluent in the surroundings without a thought to the environment.

Hence, the locals of Kalaiya, Bara have padlocked Reliance Sugar and Chemical Industries, whose harmful discharge, despite an agreement reached some eight years ago, have been affecting the lives of the people. Should the industry fail to operate within a month, it will be another reason for the dwindling sugar production in the country this year, making Nepal heavily reliant on imports for its needs.

Revival of tourism

The COVID-19 pandemic has not deterred trekking and mountaineering enthusiasts on the major tourist routes. After seven months of complete lockdown, the hoteliers and restaurant owners have now resumed their business in Manang district by adopting health measures. The government had also allowed the transport operators and hoteliers to resume their business by adhering to the health protocol.

Manang and Mustang are the Himali districts that attract more than 2 lakh tourists in normal time.

Trekking agencies and hotel operators resumed their business from October 14. The 14-day trekking route on the Annapurna Circuit has now blossomed with domestic and foreign tourists, who were waiting for the government’s permission to reach there. Life in Manang and Mustang largely depends on the hospitality business. However, the travel agencies, visitors and hotel owners must not compromise on the health protocol prescribed by the government. A single negligence from either side can dash everybody’s hope of reviving the battered tourism business. There is still a long way to go to bring the country’s tourism industry back to normalcy that has gone down by almost 90 per cent due to the pandemic.