Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Rice And Food Security

The other day the country celebrated National Rice Day amidst a variety of functions. The day falls on the 15th day of Nepali month of Asar (June 15-July 15), which is also known as Asar 15. It is an important day for Nepali farmers as the climate favours them to plant paddy in their fields across the country. It witnesses the abundant rainfall essential for the paddy plantation. The day carries greater meaning for the Nepali society that largely relies on agriculture to sustain economy of households as well as the nation. The month of Asar decides the fate of farmers because they depend on monsoon for irrigation that keeps Nepal’s agriculture going as irrigation facility has covered only limited part of cultivable land. When the farmers produce desired amount of rice, it ensures food security and prosperity.

Beyond economy, the day also forms the vibrant part of social, cultural and religious life of Nepalis. Rice, an important cereal and staple food, is related to all cultural rituals from birth to death. So it is an integral part of our social life and any positive or negative impact on rice production has direct bearing on the majority of the people. Eighteen years ago, the government had decided to mark Asar 15 as the National Rice Day, considering the social and economic significance of the day. The theme of this year’s Rice Day is: “Increase in rice production: food security, self-sufficiency and prosperity.” The slogan implies that rice is critical to ensure food security, nutrition, livelihoods and prosperity of the people. Its contribution to the agricultural gross domestic production and GDP stands around 21 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. It constitutes more than 50 per cent share in the total food production.

In the Fiscal Year 2020/2021, 5.62 million metric tons of rice was produced. It was grown in 1.47 million hectare of land but its productivity was 3.81 tons per hectare, which is not encouraging. According to the news report carried by this daily, paddy production is expected to increase to 6 million tons in the coming fiscal years owing to the good precipitation and availability of chemical fertilisers. Still, there will be a deficit of about 600,000 tons of paddy to meet the national demand. This year paddy has been planted in 27.12 per cent of the paddy fields, which is 8 per cent less than that of the previous year. In order to enhance production and productivity of rice and other food grains, it is imperative to focus on modern technology, mechanisation and research on them. The government has started the process of establishing a chemical fertiliser factory in view of perennial shortage of vital agro inputs in the time of paddy plantation.

Experts have stated that the use of quality seeds alone can help contribute 15-20 per cent additional rice yield. The Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) has released 91 rice varieties, except hybrid ones. For this, farmers should follow recommended packages to boost their yield potential. Unless we modernise and commercialise the agro sector, it is unlikely that we achieve self-reliance in food and economic growth. Every month, the country imports rice worth 2.5 billion, which is not good for an agrarian nation. Now the time has come to facilitate farmers and invest more in agriculture to make it a strong pillar of the national economy and create jobs for the youth.