As Nepal’s agriculture production has declined drastically, the import of farm products has gone up. According to a recently published report, Nepal’s import offood grains, particularly rice, jumped by a whopping 33 percent to Rs 22.48 billion in the first eight months of the current fiscal year due to the disappointing summer harvests.
Statistics released by Trade and Export Promotion Center show that Nepal imported cereals worth Rs. 28.61 billion in the last fiscal year, that is, 2013-14. Cereal products include beaten rice, buckwheat, millet, husk rice, barley, wheat and corn.Meanwhile, the import of crude palm oil has increased 23.1 percent to Rs 3.3 billion in the first eight months of this fiscal year
Despite several interventions of the past, traditional patterns of Nepal’s agriculture sector remain dominant. Without a major effort at modernization, it is impossible to increasecereal and other products. In fact,the import of cereal productsis likely to grow in the coming years.
At a time when Nepal’s agriculture sector is in a desperate need of transformation to meet the new challenges, the U.S. government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has announced the expansion to Nepal of two successful agricultural programs that promote food security and economic growth.
Launched by the United States, under a partnership between USAID/Nepal and USAID/India,the programs aim at increasing Nepali smallholder farmers' access to mechanized farming technologies, such as low-cost attachments to tractors that increase farmers' agricultural yields and incomes.
The programs will also strengthen Nepal's Agriculture and Forestry University and its curriculum that focuses on the needs of farmers and agricultural markets.
“We're working together with the Government of Nepal and key private sector actors to build high-impact partnerships to expand innovations in the country, strengthen local capacity of government and private sectors and build a thriving economy that will one day replace our assistance. In Nepal, nowhere is this more important than in agricultural development, which we know is one of the surest routes out of poverty," said USAID Mission Director Dr. Beth Dunford.
Since 2010, USAID, under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) program, has partnered with several Indian private sector firms to develop agricultural equipment that is used by farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Odissa.
The CSISA program will now work with Nepali public and private institutions to extend this low-cost innovative agricultural equipment to Nepal to help improve agricultural practices.
USAID will support the Nepali private sector to develop cutting-edge agricultural technologies suitable to the country's mountainous geography. The CSISA program will also help generate employment and income by training local mechanics to repair and maintain the equipment.
As more research and upgraded agriculture education are imperative, USAID will fund and support the Agriculture and Forestry University to identify research areas and develop the curricula. These changes will help agriculture students better contribute to Nepal's rural development and economic growth. This program is based on the Agricultural Innovation Partnership in India, which helped three leading universities adopt innovative agricultural education curricula and training and research initiatives.
Addressing the program, joint secretary and head of policy and international cooperation, coordination Division Ministry of Agricultural Development Dr. Rajendra Prasad Adhikari acknowledged USAID’s long support to agriculture development in Nepal. “Many Nepalese got opportunities to study abroad on USAID support and I am one of the beneficiariesthat support to Nepal,” said Adhikari.
Dr.Bahiru Duguma, director, food security officer, USAID/India, highlighted the importance of emerging USAID, India-Nepal food security partnership.
In the third program Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) in Nepal, D Andrew McDonald PhD, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), project leader, CSISA, overviewed agriculture practices and Nepal ways to improve productivity.
“Given simple interventions with small investment, Nepal can improve the agriculture production many times. The change in seeds, fertilizers and locally improved technology can bring a change in the productivity,” said McDonald.
As Nepal still uses very low fertilizers, old seeds and low mechanization, agriculture is economically unviable. If current trends continue Nepal, which wasself-sufficient in rice until a few decades ago, will become a major importer of food grains.
Agriculture Ministry estimated paddy output drop, 5.1 percent to 4.78 million tons this year. Nepal produced 258,435 tons less paddy compared to last year.
Experts said that the rise in Nepali’s income along with real estate and industrial expansion has left less room for farmland, resulting in low agricultural output to meet the demands of a growing population.
“USAID has a major contribution in modernizing agriculture in Nepal. I am encouraged by the interest shown by USAID to support again in agriculture research in Nepal,”said Vice Chancellor of Agriculture and Forestry University Rampur Professor Kailash Nath Pyakurel.
As Nepal’s dependency on imported agricultural products was growing at an alarming rate, the government needs to increase investment in the farm sector significantly to achieve the goal of self-sufficiency in food.
As there is a long term planning, Ministry of Agriculture Development proposesa budget funding of Rs38 billion in the next fiscal year 2015-16 to attain high economic growth through intensive and accelerated growth in the farm sector.
Experiences of USAID funded KISAN project have shown that increasing the supply and accessibility of elite seeds, scale-appropriate mechanization and better-bet management technologies can bring better results.
Cereal System Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) Nepal activities include an explicit focus on training for women farmers as well as providing technical backstopping for the newly funded KISAN project that is part of Feed the Future.
As Ministry of Agriculture Development plans to bring down the country’s paddy import bill from Rs14 billion last fiscal year to Rs6 billion by the next fiscal through implementation of various programs, CSISA’s method can be useful for Nepal.
The government also plans to reduce the maize import bill progressively to Rs2.5 billion in 2015-16 and to Rs2 billion and Rs1 billion by 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectively. Nepal currently imports maize worth Rs5 billion annually. As the paddy import bill is projected to shrink to Rs2 billion in 2016-17, it is nurturing an ambitious plan to export paddy worth Rs 3 billion by 2017-18.
Agricultural Engineering Unit was established under the Ministry of Agriculture with the purpose of developing infrastructure such as farm building, farm road, irrigation facilities, etc. in various newly established farms/stations and agricultural development offices throughout Nepal in 2010.
The main goal of this division is to enhance the livelihood/socioeconomic status and ensure equity among the farming community and support agriculture related entrepreneurs in Nepal with the increase in production and productivity in agriculture through the adoption of environment friendly, cost effective, efficient and appropriate agricultural engineering technologies.
“NARC is currently working on modification of agricultural implements and machinery like animal drawn zero till seed drill, modular power tiller, jab seeder, millet pearlier/thresher, modified seed drill modification and testing of matching implements for 2-wheel tractors,” said Dr. Y.B. Pandey, executive director, Nepal Agricultural Research Council, on the occasion.
With the support from USAID, Nepal has made a lot of progress in modernizing Nepal’s agriculture sector in the last five decades. However, the process of reform needs to accelerate further to meet the new challenges.