There is much talk about how Nepal has to import much of its foodstuff from abroad and the people in general find it difficult to make ends meet even in daily consumable kitchen items. This is very surprising to most old timers, who grew up with the belief that Nepal was an agro-based country and it exported its agricultural products as well. But now times have changed completely and billions of rupees are spent in importing foodstuff besides other things. We know that the people in the hilly areas have small plots of productive land, but they still can survive and even save money for festivals and different occasions. In the plain regions, people have much more land and they can grow cash crops and live off well.
It is not that the government has not done anything. According to farmers themselves, the government has given better seeds, subsidies and also loans, but the complaint is that even in such efforts which would help make the country self-sufficient in food items, there has been some sort of a partisan attitude and many others have not been able to get the benefits provided. Even developed countries first protect the interests of their own agricultural products and the people who depend on the income of this field. A country smaller than Nepal and which is located in the middle of a desert not only produces agro products for consumption within the country, but also exports such items in the international market.
We are talking of Israel, which provides training to most Nepali agriculturists and which is also famous for its juicy oranges that are sold in many parts of the world. If in the middle of a desert a small nation can accomplish so much in agriculture, in a country like Nepal, which does not have any harsh weather conditions and the soil is naturally very fertile, there is no reason why the country cannot be self-sufficient in its own agro products. It is almost similar in some of the most powerful nations of the world, like the United States and also Russia, where agriculture sustains and even boosts their economy, besides of course their development in technology, and they also have a surplus of agricultural products which they sell in the international markets.
There is no reason why Nepal, which now imports food items in huge numbers, cannot do the same. But the policy makers have to change their attitude towards this sector. The government has made promises of establishing fertiliser plants within the country, but it should also ensure that local products will find a market and youths will be attracted to this profession before choosing to go abroad. Now there are thousands of people going to foreign lands while the fertile fields within the country are lying fallow due to lack of attention and also able hands. It has become common now to hear about the protests of local farmers who have felt cheated by the so called ‘middlemen’.
They have spilt milk in the streets, thrown away vegetables and also blamed authorities for not looking seriously into their problems. Just recently farmers also threw tomatoes in the streets as they claimed they did not get a fair price for their hard toiled products. One farmer also said to the media how they received very low prices, even about just five rupees per one kilogram of tomatoes whereas the same was sold at an astonishing amount in the markets. Like the government has monitored the activities of the ‘middlemen’ in different service giving government offices, it would be a welcome move if the same was done to give justice to the local farmers.
Any effort of the government and policy makers would give some relief to not only the people who have stuck on to the agriculture field but it would also give relief to the common public for whom vegetables are a part of their daily staple diet. It is important for an agro based country like Nepal to have its land filled with agricultural products, whether they are cash crops or a necessity for the people. Simply importing such things harms the nation’s economy and also affects the day to day life of the people. But sadly much land is remaining fallow because of the futility of the farmers who have to sell their products at a very low price.
We just cannot leave any land fallow, especially in the fertile areas and the government has made policies that all such land should be utilised for agricultural reasons. But due to lack of helping hands and also low prices the farmers get for all the hard work they have done to produce the agro products that suits them, much use of the fertile soil has not been made. Even in the hill areas, individuals are more interested in building houses instead of opting for agriculture. It is the same in Kathmandu which was famous for the vegetables it produced in yesteryears.
Experts have time and again said that the nation should concentrate more in the agriculture sector as not only the weather but also the fertile soil is assets and more of the populace can benefit from this work besides the consumers. They have also said that the fertile lands are not made for buildings, as they are not solid. But no one seems to pay any heed to such advice. Thus the government must be very particular about the needs of the country and make strong policies for the betterment of the agricultural sector and also monitor those who seek to gain benefits by exploiting the hard working individuals who are engaged in farming.
(The author is former Chief Editor of this daily.)