EDITORIAL: Riverbed farming

If riverbed farming is well executed, thousands of landless families can be lifted out of poverty within a couple of years

Thousands of people can be lifted out of poverty within a couple of years, even without distributing land to the poor and landless families, displaced by natural disasters like a flood, a landslide and an earthquake, provided the government comes out with a long-term plan of action to engage them in riverbed farming. As the country lacks mass production facilities and a strong industrial base, it is still the agricultural sector that can create jobs and income opportunities to the poor, landless and low-income families, who have been into farming for generations. Every year, thousands of families are displaced by natural disasters, which force them to take refuge either on the river banks, forests or public lands not properly utilised by the government. These families could contribute to the nation if they were to be provided with a certain plot of land on the riverbanks solely for farming purpose.

With a view to better utilising the able workforce in the productive sector, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development has recently started a noble concept of riverbed farming in Sunsari, Kapilvastu and Kanchanpur districts as a pilot project. The ministry estimates there are around 60,000 hectares of riverbed land suitable for farming in the country. Currently, only 6,000 hectares of such land have been used for riverbed farming. In the past, riverbed farming was run by I/NGOs with foreign funding. A cabinet meeting in January decided to implement riverbed farming to be supervised by the National Centre for Potato, Vegetable and Spice Crops Development and implemented by the Agriculture Knowledge Centre of the respective districts. Currently, the government has allocated Rs 10 million for this fiscal to promote riverbed farming. This amount should be increased if the pilot project in the three districts proves to be sustainable.

Riverbank soil is suitable mainly for growing watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin, bitter gourd, sponge gourd, bottle gourd, peanuts and other green vegetables. The farmers do not need to worry about market access as all the produce can be sold in the local markets, and their surplus production can also be sold in the bigger cities. Tej Bahadur Subedi, spokesperson at the ministry, said it decided to launch the project on its own after I/NGOs proved it to be a successful venture. The government has also decided to provide seeds, chemical fertilisers, technical know-how, irrigation materials and cash as incentives to support the families wanting to engage in riverbed farming. If this project is well implemented across the country, thousands of landless families will benefit from it. It will also help reduce the ever-growing pressure on the forests and unclaimed public and government land. However, the people need to be trained in the use of modern technology and methods being used elsewhere in riverbank farming. One thing the three tiers of government need to be  careful is that no land mafia should be allowed to grab such lands. Only the needy people should be given a plot of land on a contract basis, without any provision of land ownership papers, as it used to happen in the past. All the local levels must be roped in to translate this already tested concept into a reality.

Monkey menace

It has suddenly dawned on the locals of Udaypur district, in eastern Nepal, that the monkey menace is one of their own making. People are shielding themselves indoors and walking outside in groups to stave off the monkey attacks in recent times. The locals of about a dozen villages in the hilly areas of the district are starting to question what is causing the simian rampage that has led to massive destruction of crops and injury to people. The Forest Office thinks it has an answer: As the natural habitat of the monkeys has been lost due to increasing deforestation and wildfires, they have no option other than to encroach upon human settlements. Indeed 10,000 hectares of forest land spread over 60 community forests have been destroyed by wildlife, forcing the wildlife to seek refuge in human settlements.

The monkeys will not return to the forests that easily unless they have a good reason to, especially now that they know there is food in the homes. The Forest Office has mooted planting different species of grass loved by the monkeys to lure them back to the jungles. The best solution, however, lies in not disturbing the monkeys’ habitat so that they can live in peace.