TOPICS: Tapping tourism for rural development

Rural development is a prerequisite for overall development of Nepal since the majority of the Nepalis reside in rural areas. Projects and programmes in this sector, exhibiting a wide variety of approaches, have been conducted in many countries. However, in many rural areas, work is exhausting. There are no market outlets and scarce possibilities of self-supply. The majority of peasants survive on less than $50 a year. They can make little use of resources for the lack of know-how. A Food and Agriculture Organisation study some years ago found that over 30% of grains is lost due to defective storage.

A UNESCO study in technologies for rural development emphasised that each situation should be assessed on its own to determine the needs of agricultural communities and to select the technology best adapted to each ecosystem. But in most Third World countries, information, infrastructure and technology are still lacking and a high proportion of the labour in farming is uneducated. Hence it is unrealistic to expect rural workers to utilise complex techniques.

The past governments have failed to stimulate rural growth. As a result, remote areas, already dependent on fragile ecosystem, have been overlooked. Basic services and infrastructures such as primary education, health care, drinking water and roads remain deficient. Lack of effective redistribution mechanism means rapid growth of non-agricultural activities which, in turn, mainly benefit urban areas.

In Nepal, rural progress has been undermined by conflict although rural development has been one of the priority sectors since the inception of the planned development in the 50s. However, no big achievement has been made in this regard. Rural development should actually be viewed not only as a single problem of augmenting agricultural production but also incorporate other sector like tourism.

Nepal is often portrayed as a land of quaint villages and landscapes, majestic mountains, ancient temples and monuments, exotic forest and wildlife and fantastic festivals. Its climate is characterised by changes in elevation and is subject to classification into different vertical zones. The government has been emphasising tourism sector not only because it is a major source of foreign currency, but also because it is a reliable source of employment. However, the need of the hour is to reap benefits from natural beauty of Nepal. Our endeavour should not be centred in a few locations but should include all places that have potential as tourist spots. Developing new tourist destinations will contribute more to economic development. The private sector too must support this endeavour. Meanwhile, tourists should be provided more facilities to lengthen their stay in the country.

The country has already been linked to new destinations via air service. This has to be matched with efforts aimed at promoting Nepal as a major tourist destination and enhancing the inflow of tourists. Towards this end, it is imperative to develop domestic tourism as well.