EDITORIAL: Huge potential

Minimum support price for coffee must be declared in advance every year to allay farmers’ fear that they will be cheated by middlemen

Around 30 years ago, the late King Birendra visited Aapchaur, Gulmi where he encouraged farmers to grow Arabica and Robusta species of coffee with government support for irrigation, technical know-how and a sustainable market for it.

Within that span of time farmers in as many as 41 hilly districts are engaged in coffee plantation, and a small amount of organic coffee is exported to Japan and other countries.

But it has not gained momentum as per expectations. Some of the farmers in pocket areas, such as in Aanpchaur, have shifted to other cash crops or traditional farming after they found it difficult to grow, harvest, process and fetch fair prices of their produce.

Latest data reveal that coffee was cultivated on 2,381 hectares of land producing around 463 tonnes for the year 2014/15. The volume of coffee production is quite low compared to the potential that Nepal has thanks to a suitable climate.

If proper strategy is worked out Nepal will not only be able to earn foreign currency from the sale of organic coffee in the international market but will also generate employment opportunity in rural areas.

Keeping this in mind, the National Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB), to be chaired by the Agriculture Minister, has come up with a five-year strategic plan to enhance productivity and marketability of coffee.

According to the strategy, the NTCDB will support the research works and carry out various activities aimed at making coffee growers aware of high yield; motivate them to plant coffee in larger areas; make available the pesticide to control diseases and increase coffee export in international markets along with various forms of incentives to farmers and processing industries.

The strategic plan has also identified the need to revise the existing policy on coffee production, processing and its export in the international market.

One of the drawbacks for Nepal not being able to produce a large amount of coffee is that the farmers are not assured of getting fair price for their produce despite the fact that coffee has huge potential in the international market.

The government must develop linkages between the coffee growers, domestic markets as well as the international markets maintaining its quality as per international standards.

The government must issue organic certification to the coffee producers and processors and hold negotiations with the Nepali coffee importing countries such as Japan, Korea, Germany and China.

A study carried out on “Banana and Coffee Production Zones” has suggested growing coffee at an altitude of around 1,350 metres as temperature at this altitude in the coming 20-30 years will be similar to that of 1,100 metres where coffee is currently cultivated.

It is imperative to adapt the climate change due to global warming. In order to exploit the huge potential of growing coffee in Nepal, the government must provide quality seeds and insecticide, technical know-how, financial supports; cover insurance against damage of the crop to the growers, and make sure that they get a fair price for their produce without hassles.

Minimum support price for coffee must be declared in advance every year to allay farmers’ fear that they will be cheated either by middlemen.

Conserving soil

Efforts to conserve soil have been made at various levels and in many areas but they seem to have become less effective and inadequate.

That is why there has been no letup in the harmful effects of soil erosion on the country, such as landslides and washing away of the soil by the rivers.

The major earthquakes of one and a half years ago have made the soil in certain hilly districts more vulnerable.

The Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed Management is reported to have sent a file to the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, making a case for deputing all soil conservation officers as environmental inspectors.

The scheme aims to check land erosion caused by development works throughout the country. As infrastructure development is essential for the country, so is the environmental conservation.

Haphazard construction works have already caused considerable damage to roads, settlements, and agricultural fields in the hilly areas.

The environmental inspectors will act as consultants during infrastructural development planning to minimize ecological disturbance and damage to the environment. The idea is worth considering.