At the economic, political and operational levels, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought agriculture into a dynamic debate.
A significant portion of fruits produced in Jumla or Humla are rejected when brought to the big market places due to delay in transportation. Hence, the fruits rot before they can be distributed in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Also lack of proper branding has created problems in marketing organic fruits grown here as Apples packed in foreign-made cartons fail to get recognition as local fruits
Although total productivity of agriculture has shown growth at the national level over the last decade, food scarcity has been seen, particularly during the pandemic.
According to a report published by the World Food Programme, at the provincial level, the highest percentage of households suffering food scarcity was found in April 2020 in Karnali Province (17.5%), followed by Province 5 (7.6%) and Sudurpaschim Province (7.3%).
Market for food is crafted as per the consumption needs of the consumers.
The estimates for food supply in Nepal are drawn on the basis of different food security dimensions: availability, accessibility, utilisation, stability, nutritional value, food safety and future needs.
Food availability is largely dependent on factors like local production and imports.
Local production is the key to being sufficient in staple crops for basic calorie intake. There is a challenge in cultivating crops and vegetables during the off-season in the absence of modern farming techniques, such as the use of machinery.
Nepal holds huge potential in growing organic tea for export. The fact that export earnings from various products rose by 23 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 and there was a sudden rise in the price of tea by 40-60 per cent shows that demand in a country like India rose exponentially as production could not keep pace.
Physical access and economic access make up the accessibility factor. A significant portion of fruits produced in Jumla or Humla are rejected when brought to the big market places due to delay in transportation. Hence, the fruits rot before they can be distributed in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
Lack of proper branding has created problems in marketing organic fruits.
Apples of Jumla and Humla do not carry the label of "organic apples" as there is no system of local packaging.
Apples packed in foreign-made cartons fail to get recognition as local fruits.
Some value chain programmes in agriculture have sought to increase the use of food and maintain the nutritional value.
Household dietary habits, planning and allocation play an important role in evaluating the usability of foods. Households can ensure proper utilisation of food only if they can properly process and store food items. Their plates should comprise all the necessary nutrients like protein, carbohydrate and vitamins to make out a complete balanced diet. Vegetable suppliers should provide a well-packaged mix of vegetables with expiry dates to meet the basic dietary requirements of the population.
Seasonal fluctuation and outbreaks of diseases have often led to price changes of crops and vegetables.
Uncertainties of demand and supply of inputs such as fertilisers as well as weather adversity reduce food security at times. Generally, winter vegetables like cauliflower and tomatoes can also be grown in the hills during autumn and monsoon. During the winter, there is a short supply of such vegetables in the plains, and their prices tend to go up there, while the vegetables of the main season are priced lower.
This is because of the seasonality factor, which cause shift in supply and demand in the market.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the prices of vegetables have risen in places where the consumers' demand for vegetables is greater. But in areas where people are self-sustaining themselves through farming, the prices have been gradually decreasing.
From the point of harvest to when it is eaten, the nutritional value of food can differ significantly. With urbanisation and growing incomes, people consume higher amounts of processed foods. But there is scope for preserving essential nutrients and vitamins in food items. However, people need to understand the factors that reduce the quality of food, such as poor quality storage, hence certain types of nutrients might get lost while processing.
There is a high possibility of food contamination as demand for perishable food has risen with rising incomes. Food protection plays a major role in the efficient use of food, as food poisoning can take place during intake of unhealthy food. However, even the minimum standard of quality has not been maintained while growing vegetables and crops with respect to use of inputs, such as pesticides and fertilisers, although the provision has been mentioned in the Food Safety Policy 2076.
Urbanisation has increased the physical distance between small farm holders and the consumers.
Hence, some safety measures are needed to deliver the produce. Nepal's constitution has mentioned the need of sanitation, but its implementation aspect is not effective.
The government should implement regulations with regard to sanitation of hands while packaging vegetables that are to be transported to the market.
Consumers' safety can be addressed through public awareness. Consumers should be aware that vegetables should be packed separately, not mixed with fresh or frozen raw foods, such as meat and poultry.
The establishment of warehouses near farms and vegetable shops can help reduce the wastage of vegetables caused by pests.
The government should ensure delivery vehicles running frequently between farms and shops.
This initiative, if taken, can reduce vegetables from rotting by 25 percent.
The Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act, passed in 2018, has stressed on the availability of nutritious food to the Nepalis and the right of the Nepali people to freely pursue agriculture as an occupation.
However, farmers that have no arable land to cultivate must be ensured their rights.
A version of this article appears in the print on February 18, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.