Private sector will not be keen on large-scale farming unless it sees economic prospects in it

The private sector has started discussion with Finance Minister Janardan Sharma, urging the latter to focus on scaling up production and productivity within the country and also coming up with a protectionist trade policy in the next fiscal budget. As per the constitutional provision, the government has to table its budget in the federal parliament on May 28 for fiscal year 2022/23. During an interaction, representatives of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) stressed that the upcoming budget should focus on encouraging the private sector to increase investment in the productive sectors in the wake of the global economic crisis due to COVID-19 and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, which has led to skyrocketing prices of fuel, commodities and raw materials. As Nepal's trade is solely dependent on India and Nepal's currency is pegged with the Indian rupee, any kind of economic slowdown there will have negative impact on Nepal.

The FNCCI representatives warned that Nepal could face a serious economic crisis if the problems of energy and interest rate were not addressed on time. Although tourism is slowly gaining momentum in recent months, Nepal's foreign exchange reserve will not increase unless the flow of remittance returns to the pre-pandemic level.

During the pre-budget discussion, the FNCCI has stressed the need to come up with a short-, medium-and long-term action plan focusing on export promotion, import substitution and post-COV- ID recovery. The FNCCI has also urged the Finance Minister to bring about structural reforms in the upcoming budget, which would lead to better resource mobilisation and quality spending, instead of just focusing onraising revenue. The private sector stalwarts have also advised the Finance Minister to better utilise the remittance, introduce an action plan for competitive exports and foreign direct investment, and tourism promotion, among others.

Every government says its priority is to focus on production-based economy to narrow down the trade deficit and maintain the balance of payments.

And it only pays lip service to increasing investment in the agriculture sector, but nothing new is visible when the finance minister presents the fiscal budget.

Even the private sector does not have any idea or action plan about the ways of increasing agro-products and productivity. It only seeks facilities and concessions from the government so that it can make profit overnight from trading, not from mass production of farming and manufactured goods. If we are really serious about becoming self-sufficient on agriculture, we need to focus on select areas, where Nepal has competitive edge. So far, the private sector has not come up with any plan that can help ensure food security.

At the same time, the government should be able to provide vast swaths of land to private firms or individuals on a leasehold basis where they could engage in large-scale farming, leading up to the level of exports. For this, the government should strictly implement the land-use policy, under which land spared for agriculture purpose is not allowed for other purposes. No individual or private sector will be interested in large-scale farming unless they see economic prospects in it.

Schools for deaf

Nearly 2 per cent of Nepal's population is said to suffer from some form of disability, according to the 2011 census. They could be economically productive if they are given skills and specialised education from an early age when they are still in school. Currently, 15,000 deaf students attend either 22 specialised schools or 174 resource classrooms, which meet their specific needs at inclusive schools, according to the National Federation of the Deaf-Nepal.

The federation has now proposed 'one district, one school for deaf' to provide quality education to deaf children. It's a good idea, but specialised schools for the deaf don't come easy. Books and resource materials for the deaf require some investment, and such schools require teachers trained in the sign language, among others. It is apparent that, unlike other general schools, teachers for a deaf school cannot be hired at short notice in case of an emergency, mainly in a rural setting. Moreover, the Nepali sign language has just 4,700 words, which needs to develop further so that the deaf can benefit greatly. Physical infrastructure apart, training of teachers willing to dedicate their life for the well-being of the deaf is a challenge.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 04, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.