Nepal | July 06, 2020

EDITORIAL: Give them work

The Himalayan Times
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The unemployment problem is an outcome of the government’s inaction for decades to develop the productive sectors

As elsewhere, Nepal’s economy is also likely to take an almighty hit in the face of the fast-spreading coronavirus that has claimed more than 3,800 lives and infected 113,000 people in 110 countries. Nepal’s economy is heavily dependent on remittances sent by millions of migrant workers working especially in the Gulf countries, Malaysia and South Korea, and tourism. But Qatar, a major destination for Nepali migrants and a vital source of remittance, has temporarily suspended work visas of up to 40,000 Nepali workers, who were all set to fly there, due to the corona scare. Nepal is among the 14 countries from where the Qatari government has suspended entry of people. It is not known for how long the arrival ban will last, but according to those in the foreign employment business, it could be for a considerable period of time. With the virus now also being detected in the neighbourhood – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – similar arrival bans can be anticipated. The Nepali government has already put a temporary ban on sending workers to South Korea, a highly lucrative destination for Nepali migrants but one that has been badly affected by the virus.

The inability to send thousands of workers to the destination countries comes at a time when Nepal’s other foreign exchange generator, tourism, is seeing a slump due to reduced flow of tourists. It’s March, the beginning of the tourism and spring mountaineering season, when tourists should have been spilling all over the major tourist hotspots, but many hotels are closing down for lack of guests. What’s more, beginning Tuesday, the government has stopped issuing on-arrival visas for citizens of five countries, including China, Japan and South Korea and Italy, and for citizens of France, Germany and Spain from March 13. Apart from dwindling remittances and tourism money, of greater worry for the government should be finding work for the tens of thousands of youths in the country who have now no work. An estimated half a million youths are said to enter the workforce in Nepal every year, and the labour destinations, especially the Gulf countries and South Korea, have functioned as safety valves, largely taking the burden off the government.

The huge unemployment problem in the country is an outcome of the government’s inaction for decades to develop sectors where the youths could be productively put to work. While we wait for the coronavirus to subside and the labour markets to open up, now is the time to identify the productive sectors and employ our youths there. Not that history did not throw up such opportunities in the past to build an economy where people could be gainfully employed. There were the blockades and the earthquake of 2015. But we never acted, engaging in rhetoric only. At the moment, Nepal’s farms are suffering from an acute shortage of hands during plantation, harvesting and post-harvest handling. Providing incentives to invest in modern farms would absorb tens of thousands of youths and give a boost to the agriculture sector. Construction could be another lucrative area. It is for the government and other stakeholders to identify such productive areas through discussion and channel the energy of our youths.


Woes of coffee growers

Coffee is a major cash crop of Nepal that is exported to the developed countries. However, its production is very low compared to other major coffee producing countries. Although it is cultivated in more than 40 districts, its total production stands at less than 600 metric tons a year. The coffee growing farmers have not been able to increase their production due to various factors associated with it.

A report from Kaski, one of the major coffee producing districts, says its production will drop this year due to the outbreak of a new disease that has caused the wilting of leaves, fruits and plants. National Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB), Pokhara has said an estimated Rs 60 million has already been lost due to the disease. The disease has posed a big challenge to sustainability of coffee farming, which in recent times has been a new source of income to thousands of farmers. The NTCDB must do something to bring the disease under control by roping in pest controllers at the grass-roots level. Nepal cannot afford to lose a major source of income because of the disease. As coffee is not indigenous to Nepal, the government must provide technical and financial support to the farmers for its growth.

 


A version of this article appears in print on March 11, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.


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