Agro imports have joined oil imports in the Rs 100 billion club. According to the Trade and Export Promotion Centre (TEPC), Nepal imported farm products worth Rs 127.51 billion in the last fiscal year, up from Rs 99.35 billion before, setting off concern that the country’s dependency on imported food was ballooning out of control.
The TEPC’s figures show that agro imports have swelled three-fold during the last five years. The food import bill in 2009-10 amounted to Rs 44.43 billion. Rice tops the list of agro imports followed by crude soybean oil, vegetable, betel nut, maize and crude palm oil reports ekantipur online.
Tej Singh Bista, deputy executive director at the TEPC, attributed the increasing import bill to a drop in domestic production due to growing urbanization.
In addition, a rapidly growing migratory trend, particularly of the working age population going abroad for employment, has left the farm sector shorthanded.
According to the TEPC, Nepal imported rice worth Rs 17.25 billion in the last fiscal, up from Rs 14.34 billion in the previous fiscal. More than 95 percent of the rice imports came from India.
Crude soybean oil is the second largest agro import. Shipments of soybean oil jumped 35.8 percent to Rs 14.82 billion compared to the last fiscal. Vegetable, betel nut, maize and crude palm oil are the other farm products in the toppers list.
Imports of betel nuts rose more than two-fold to Rs 7.67 billion in the last fiscal. Apart from India, betel nuts are imported from Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan.
Former Commerce Secretary Purushottam Ojha said the growing import of agro products had set off alarm bells in the country. He stressed the need to promote Nepali products to substitute ballooning imports. “The existing provision of imposing a 5 percent agriculture reform fee on Indian farm agro products is not sufficient to protect domestic products,” he said.
On the other hand, exports of Nepal’s farm products have been dismal. The share of agro products in the total exports inched up to 28.9 percent from 22.5 percent five years ago. In the last fiscal, exports of farm products amounted to Rs 26.41 billion.
Juice, cardamom, betel nut, lentils, tea and tobacco were the major agro exports. Juice was the largest export amounting to Rs 4.44 billion.
Ojha said that an increasing attraction towards cash crops had helped push up exports. However, he stressed the need for government subsidies to boost exports of farm products.