TOPICS : Development needs a boost from agriculture

Bishnu K Dhital

Democracy with social justice and equality, and a truly decentralised local governance are the main prerequisites for equitable development. But, in Nepal, the fruits of democracy remained a dream even after 1990. The Nepali society is formed under highly individualistic culture and norms, which are the consequences of a feudal system prevailing for centuries. It is not surprising then that democracy with social justice cannot flourish in such conditions. That is mainly responsible for increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. Limited democracy restored in 1990 could not clearly visualise these gaps and the country went on to follow the same old values. As a result, the country falls far behind in infrastructure development, utilisation of resources and in providing job opportunities. Nepal is mainly an agriculture-based country with more than 60 per cent population dependent on agriculture. No doubt, the development of the country is not possible without the development of agriculture. However, this sector is still feudal, traditional and subsistence.

Some of its major weaknesses are inappropriate land ownership system having small pieces of land or no land with cultivators and no direct involvement of landlords in agricultural production; lack of basic infrastructure such as irrigation, transport, electricity, communication for agricultural development; high inflation but very low price for farm products and no government support mechanism for farmers; lack of commercialisation and mechanisation in production; lack of focused activities to utilise the comparative advantages in production and marketing; lack of strategy for agro-based industries and continuous import of large amount of processed food.

Limited decentralisation mechanism has also been centralised at district headquarters. Self-governance is a far away goal and there is clearly a lack of real participatory approach of programme planning and monitoring at grass root level. Due to all the above mentioned reasons, Nepal has been transferred from a net exporter to an importer country of agricultural products from late 80s onwards. Lack of clear vision and commitment remained severe bottleneck during this period. This means malpractice is common from top to grassroots level. That is one reason why the state is looking for easy money and has depended on external funding for more than three decades now.

Past experiences show that external funding is usually focused on small and/or quicker result-producing projects and marginalises the long-term objectives, which, in reality, is cheaper and sustainable. On the other hand, a huge sum from short-term projects were misused by the authorities resulting in poor and costly outputs. Most of irrigation and hydropower projects in Nepal are some of the examples. Therefore, development at grassroots level has always remained in shadow.

Development process cannot move ahead without addressing major weaknesses of the agricultural sector. More importantly, sectoral development is not possible without an holistic approach that includes not only all the sectors but also a major change in mentality, culture and traditions of the political leaders and the intellectuals.