Compared to the countries of the region, Nepal’s investment in agriculture is low, which shows that it is not a priority of the government
Nepal is an agricultural country, with the farms providing livelihood to more than 65 per cent of the population and accounting for a third of its GDP. However, the huge import of agriculture produce — from the staple rice, corn and lentils to vegetables, fruits and meat — to the tune of more than a billion dollars annually makes a mockery of Nepal’s agriculture credentials. The reason why Nepal’s agriculture production is low is because it is still very traditional. Commercialisation of agriculture is only starting to take place, and its modernisation will require huge investments in terms of technology, quality agro inputs, research and, of course, competent technical manpower. However, low investment in agriculture has made it impossible to produce appropriate technology that meets the needs of diverse clients and carry out scientific development of agriculture. Compared to the countries of the region, Nepal’s investment in agriculture is low, just about 2 per cent of the budget, which shows that it is not a priority of the government. An allocation of at least 5 per cent would be desirable to compete with the subsidised farm imports from neighbouring countries. Nepal allocated Rs 26.76 billion for agriculture this fiscal, out of a budget of Rs 1.31 billion, which means each person engaged in the agriculture sector received less than Rs 1,500, which is of little help.
The low investment is made the worse by the poor spending of the capital expenditure. Capital expenditure in agriculture stands at 61 per cent so far, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, although the minister has given assurances that it would touch 80 per cent in another three weeks or by the end of this fiscal. In a bid to boost agriculture production through the use of modern farming techniques, the ministry has introduced the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project (PMAMP), which has a target of setting up one model agriculture farm in each of the seven provinces during the next fiscal year. But some of the projects with huge investments have already faced trouble due to lack of technicians who can handle these high-tech equipment.
The country has allocated Rs 34.83 for the agriculture sector for next fiscal. While a bigger budget would have been welcome, strict implementation of the policy related to scientific land use is more desirable. Haphazard urbarnisation coupled with land fragmentation is destroying arable land and leading to low land productivity. This is no longer limited to the Kathmandu Valley; land fragmentation due to division of property and for housing is now very much a phenomenon of the entire flat plains of the Tarai as well as the hills. Land fragmentation is a serious problem, and the state should have final say on how land is to be developed for different purposes, especially for agriculture if the country is to achieve food security and food sovereignty. Nepal’s agriculture holds great potential in not only producing enough to feed Nepal’s population but also leaving some for exports. India and China are huge markets that Nepal could tap into, provided it learns to manage its resources allocated to the agriculture sector to the optimum and productively.
Repair the road
The locals of Thali in Kageshwori Manahara Municipality staged a protest rally and blocked the 3-km road section from Hariyali Nagar to Brahmakhel Sunday, demanding its timely blacktopping. This is the second time that the locals have blocked the road. It has been four years since a contract was signed to repair the road. But the contractor has not carried out any work despite spending so many years. The locals also forced the municipality mayor to walk on the muddy road, where people often meet with accidents almost every day. The people living along the 12-km Chabahil-Sankhu road had also resorted to blocking the road demanding its repair.
However, the 3-km section of the road from Hariyali Nagar to Brahmakhel remains in a dilapidated condition. The mayor has assured the locals the road would be blacktopped shortly after the monsoon. The people are, however, not convinced. These things happen when the government bureaucracy fails to take stern legal action against the contractor when he fails to build the road on time. Construction of a road remains delayed by years due to a nexus between the bureaucrats and the builders.
A version of this article appears in print on June 25, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.