Our agriculture sector will remain stagnant as long as we continue to depend on subsistence farming

In developed countries like the USA, Israel and Japan, less than 3 per cent of their total population is engaged in the agriculture sector. But they produce more than enough food and also sell it to the world.

Our neighbour India is poised to produce 42 per cent more rice, the major food of most Indians, this year compared to the previous year, thanks to heavy investment in the agriculture sector by the government and private sector. However, Nepal’s agriculture scenario is just the opposite. Forty years ago, Nepal was exporting paddy and rice. But today the country imports everything from rice, lentils, edible oil and meat to vegetables, fruits and fish – which could be easily grown here with a little bit more technical and financial input – worth billions of rupees every year.

The government, policymakers and the general public tend to feel the importance of agriculture only when we confront an economic blockade or a natural disaster such as an earthquake or the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that has paralysed our daily life. We don’t grow enough onions, for instance. So when the supply from outside is disrupted for various reasons, the prices go up beyond the reach of the common people. Then we start talking about growing them in the country. It is akin to digging a well when the entire house is engulfed in a fire.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought the country to a standstill and left millions of young people both within the country and outside without jobs, the government is now talking about developing the agriculture sector, which, it claims, can generate millions of jobs. What the government ministers and policymakers do not understand is that the agriculture sector is not something that can be developed overnight. It requires a long-term plan of action, researchers, technical hands, financial support, fertilsers and irrigation facility and, more than that, enough land to till. A farmer in a rural area with a small plot of farm land cannot arrange all these things. Therefore, s/he needs government backing if the agriculture sector is to ensure food security and food sovereignty, which are a must for our survival.

While addressing a function to mark the 40th World Food Day the other day, Agriculture Minister Ghanashyam Bhusal stressed that the farmers should be able to make “some saving” from the agriculture produce they grow. This is possible when the farmers are well-organised, have direct access to the market, get technical and financial support from the government, and they also grow crops, vegetables, fruits or raise animals and fish on a large scale. It is next to impossible for the farmers to make ends meet as long as they continue to depend on subsistence farming. What we can do is switch to collective farming by bringing all the farmers of a village together to grow a specific crop that can fetch a competitive price in the local market. The concept of collective farming will enable them to acquire modern technology, skills and knowledge in the agriculture sector.

We must also have the intent to export our agro-products in the long-run. A piecemeal approach will not help develop our agriculture.

Surgical procedure

With Nepal recording thousands of new coronavirus cases every day, it is putting extreme pressure on the hospitals across the country, especially in the capital. So the government has asked hospitals to postpone elective surgeries for now so that the beds in the intensive care units and ventilators needed for post-surgical care can be used for the care of corona patients. Nepal’s caseload stands at about 110,000, and despite a 70 per cent recovery rate, there are still about 35,000 active cases. But there are only about 21,000 beds for isolation, 2,600 beds for intensive care and 900 ventilators.

The surge in coronavirus cases has been alarming in recent days, with Saturday recording as many as 5008 cases after conducting 19,320 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. It seems the more the PCR tests the higher the number of new corona cases, pointing to a large number of people infected with the virus in society. The lockdowns were a painful experience for everyone, but they were meant to prevent patients from swarming the hospitals. To keep the virus at bay, it is recommended that the people wear masks, observe physical distancing and sanitise themselves several times a day.

A version of this article appears in print on October 13, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.