FOOD SECURITY: Alarm Ringing

Recent data indicate that Nepal is a net importer of food products and a food crisis is looming over the coming days

June 6, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -1 June. 6- 2014 (Jestha 23, 2071)

For centuries, Nepal had remained a major food exporter. One of the main items Nepal exported along with several agricultural products was rice. During the 1980s, the government even constituted Paddy and Rice Export Committees in several zones of terai. However, the recent trade data indicate that Nepal is a net importer of foods.

According to the data released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Development, Nepal imported raw and processed agro-products worth Rs 99. 34 billion in fiscal 2012-13, up 30.63 percent compared to 2011-12.

At a time when the countries around the world have been encouraging farmers with subsidies, Nepalese farmers have to buy everything at the market prices. This makes their products uncompetitive before the imported products.

The country's top agro-imports include vegetables, prepared foodstuffs, oils and their cleavage products, cereals, edible vegetables, fruits and nuts, live animals, maize, betel nuts and dairy produce. The statistics show that Nepal bought vegetable products worth Rs 50.94 billion in the last fiscal year, compared to Rs 35.27 billion in the previous fiscal.

Among the vegetable products, imports of edible vegetables, roots and tubers amounted to Rs 9.71 billion. The country imported 225,229 tons of fresh and chilled potato amounting to Rs 3.07 billion.

Imports of potato seeds stood at 3,678 tonnes amounting to Rs 50.41 million. India is the top potato exporting country to Nepal with shipments worth Rs 3.11 billion. Likewise, imports of onion and shallot amounted to 94,609 tons worth Rs 1.85 billion. Of the total, imports from India stood at Rs 1.84 billion.

Nepal imported dried pea and chickpea worth Rs 1.13 billion (23,461 tones) and Rs 844.67 million (13,216 tones) respectively. Canada, Russia, the US and Ukraine are the top dried peas exporting countries to Nepal, with exports from Canada alone amounting to Rs 549.74 million. Australia is the top chickpea exporting country to Nepal followed by Canada and Austria. Imports of chickpea from Australia stood at Rs 777.34 million.

Likewise, imports of lentils, garlic and tomatoes amounted to Rs 670.42 million (13,160 tonnes), Rs 208.92 million (4,389 tonnes) and Rs 73.17 million (11,711 tonnes) respectively. China is the top garlic exporter to Nepal, while India, Canada, Turkey and Australia are the top lentil exporters to the country.

Ginger imports stood at Rs 740.76 million (24,040 tonnes). China is the top ginger exporter to Nepal which shipped 21,716 tons of the spice worth Rs 614.50 million in the last fiscal year. After China come Thailand and India in the list of top exporters. Nepal’s import bill for prepared foodstuffs, beverages, spirits, vinegar and tobacco came to Rs 26.16 billion. According to the ministry, cereal imports have risen steeply with shipments valued at Rs 20.92 billion in the last fiscal compared to Rs 13.41 billion in 2011-12. 

Cereal products include broken rice, buckwheat, millet, husk rice, barley, wheat and corn. Ministry officials said that the country’s food grain output dropped 719,244 tons in 2012-13 that led to an alarming rate of imports.

“As there was huge food grain deficit last year, Nepal imported huge amount of cereal products from India,” said Tek Prasad Luitel, a senior agro-economist at the ministry. “Expansion of poultry industry has increased import of cereals particularly for livestock feeds.”

Nepal imported oil cakes which are used as animal feed worth Rs 5.11 billion in the last fiscal year. As Nepalis normally don’t eat maize, it is used for feeding livestock.

Among cereals, imports of semi-milled or wholly milled rice amounted to Rs 9.23 billion or 259,045 tons in the last fiscal. Imports of rice from India alone amounted to Rs 8.94 billion. The country imported maize worth Rs 4.85 billion (219,761 tons) with India alone shipping maize valued at Rs 4.81 billion. Imports of paddy amounted to Rs 4.75 billion (254,465 tons).Crude and refined edible oil is the fourth largest import. Nepal imported oil worth Rs 18.52 billion in the last fiscal against Rs 18.58 billion before.

Nepal imported crude soybean oil worth Rs 10.90 billion in the last fiscal. Argentina and Brazil are the top soybean oil exporters to Nepal with exports amounting to Rs 7.80 billion and Rs 2.72 billion respectively.

Imports of crude sunflower oil amounted to Rs 2.36 billion. Ukraine is the largest crude sunflower exporter to Nepal. Likewise, crude palm oil imports to Nepal stood at Rs 3.43 billion in the last fiscal. Indonesia exported crude palm oil valued at Rs 3.27 billion to Nepal.

Regarding edible fruits, nuts and citrus fruits, imports surged to Rs 6.37 billion in the last fiscal. Imports of betel nuts amounted to Rs 3.11 billion (41,222 tones). Shipments from Indonesia amounted to Rs 1.88 billion followed by Thailand (Rs 845.51 million), India (Rs 344.53 million) and Malaysia (Rs 35.22 million).

Nepal imported 52,910 tons of fresh apples worth Rs 1.27 billion, according to the ministry. China is the largest apple exporting country to Nepal. Imports of coffee, tea and spices amounted to Rs 4.15 billion in the last fiscal.

The government needs to address the agriculture sector through two major initiatives—developing an agricultural system that ensures food security, and promoting commercial cash crops farming to increase export or substitute import to narrow the ballooning trade deficit.

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