EDITORIAL: Food for all

  • Making law ensuring right to food is not enough. The three tiers of government should first come up with a land use policy

Nepal used to export foodstuff during the 1960s. The country is now importing food grains worth over Rs 127 billion despite the fact that the government has made a huge investment in the agriculture sector, including in irrigation facilities, fertilizers and improved seeds. Fifty-five districts — 16 mountainous districts, 33 hill districts and six Tarai districts — are still suffering from chronic food shortages. The government’s subsidy programme covers only four percent of the total food deficit. More than 75 per cent population is engaged in agriculture and its contribution to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) is about 33 per cent. But it is the only sector that provides livelihood opportunities to a large number of people. Agricultural production keeps on fluctuating because of drought, bad weather pattern, heavy or low rainfall and mostly because of inadequate irrigation facilities in the Tarai, which is the major food bastion. When there is enough rainfall during monsoon, production of rice, a major cereal crop, increases, contributing to the GDP up to seven percent as was the case in 2016.

In this backdrop, the Ministry of Agriculture Development (MoAD) is mulling over sending Right to Food Bill to the Cabinet to ensure food security and food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Once the Bill is passed by federal parliament, it will be the government’s responsibility to meet citizens’ food needs as the constitution has ensured right to food, food security and food sovereignty. If it is passed, Nepal will be the first county in South Asia to have such a comprehensive law. As per the draft Bill, the government will have to identify poor families, regions and households facing hunger and famine and provide free food to people affected by natural disaster and to malnourished and pregnant and newborn babies of the vulnerable communities. The Supreme Court has also recently directed the government to ensure right to food by making appropriate law. The draft Bill has also proposed taking punitive actions against those who create famine-like situation; create obstructions in supply of food and; those who do not distribute food to the needy people.

That said, there may be surplus of food grains in the food-growing region like Tarai. But timely distribution of the surplus food in the food deficit mountainous and hilly districts is the major hindrance. It involves a huge amount of money. Transporting food to remote areas is also time-consuming process. Another factor affecting food security and food sovereignty is the non-existence of land use policy without which a nation cannot become self-reliant on food. Fragmentation of fertile, arable, plain and irrigable lands and, heavy settlements of population in those areas, be it in the Tarai, valleys or in hilly districts, at the cost of farmlands are the major challenges the government needs to address. In the past, people would live in arid areas, protecting fertile and plain lands to ensure food security. Making law ensuring right to food is not enough. The three tiers of government must first come up with a land use policy.

Sleep tight

The cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep results in sleep debt. This can have serious consequences on our physical health. According to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, 30 to 40 per cent of patients visiting the hospital these days complain of sleep disorders. Work stress, pollution, caffeine and alcohol intake, extended hours in front of computer and mobile screens and electrified nights to some extent are causing sleep disorders among many in urban centres.

The recent awareness about sleep disorders among people, however, is a good sign that they are realising sleep is no trivial issue. Regular poor sleep can result in serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It also shortens one’s life expectancy. Experts have long been warning that sleep deprivation is a risk factor for heart disease like smoking and lack of exercise. Reducing intake of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine; regular exercise; and right diet could be helpful getting better shut-eye. Prolonged lack of sleep can even disrupt the body’s immune system. A sleep disorder can be worse than a nightmare.