Food insecurity remains a fundamental challenge in Nepal, particularly in the hills and mountains because of lack of availability, access, utilization, and stability of food. Malnutrition rates in Nepal are among the highest in the world.
Food security is a complex sustainable development issue connecting dimensions of the environment, economy, and society. The issue of food security in Nepal is multifaceted and complex, confronted with challenges such as socio-political structures, gender discrimination, degradation of natural resources, extreme weather events, small size of land holdings, low productivity, long supply chains, high transaction costs, post-harvest losses and wastes, and government neglect and mismanagement.
Globalization has made food security a complex problem and its consequences can be seen in many different forms. Globalization has enabled corporations to expand into multi-national corporations and trans-national corporations aided by information technology and biotechnology. Meanwhile, critics of globalization argue that these developments are likely to lead to a further marginalization of the poor as small, under-educated, and weakly capitalized farmers are likely to be excluded from these markets and have their traditional markets weakened. It is argued that the processes of globalization have slowly destroyed local food systems by weakening state power and marginalizing people's rights.
Different features of globalization, like changes in food habits and dietary patters, the media and advertising, technology, and state subsidies are discouraging local products, which complicates food security for poor people in Nepal. It has been observed that the changing food habits in the hills and mountains of the country have increased food insecurity. The introduction of subsidized food, food for work, and support of rice as the staple food have discouraged the production and consumption of local foods such as potatoes, beans, barley, maize, and buckwheat. The changing food habits have serious implications on food security and the nutrition situation in the country.
Globalization is also affecting food security by creating employment opportunities in urban areas in countries outside Nepal. In the last decade, foreign labor migration has become a major feature of Nepal's economy and society because of insecurity and lack of economic opportunity in rural areas. On average, 400,000 youths leave the country each year for foreign employment (and this does not include seasonal migration to India). Whether migration will improve or worsen food security conditions in these farm households and their communities in the long run is a matter of debate.
Nepal being primarily an agrarian society, the majority of population derives food security from land. Thus the issue of food security of the poor and marginalized people is inherently linked to equitable land and agrarian reform. Worldwide, there is an alarming trend of governments and corporations buying up farmland on a large scale. Global investors are buying land to offset the impact of the global financial crisis for more reliable return, while food-importing countries are keen to out-source their food production. The internationally accepted principles and standards of the Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure (VGGT) may serve to develop the capacity of stakeholders to implement transparent, equitable, secure improvements to tenure arrangements over land, fisheries and forests and thereby promote food security and sustainable development.
As a global effect, climate change poses great risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades as it has the potential to undermine crop production and drive up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar. Climate change is adding a further element of risk and volatility for subsistence farmers who are already struggling to ensure food and livelihood security. Scientists have concluded that rising temperatures will have some beneficial effects on crops in some places, but that globally they will make it harder for crops to thrive, perhaps reducing production over all by as much as two percent each decade for the rest of this century.
The above global discourse on food security suggests that Nepal’s policy and strategy should be based on progressive agrarian change within sustainable integrated forest and farming systems encompassing food security, nutrition security, energy security, climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and livelihoods.
Dr. Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is the Chair of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached email@example.com