As a 25-year-old and considering the fact that I grew up in Terai, I can count the number of times, I saw tractors being used to plough the tough soil in the early days of 21st century. Though I enjoyed my childhood standing on the wooden-plank ridden by oxen with my grandfather while leveling the land, the understanding of the bitter reality strikes me today.
In Nepal, Agriculture and Poverty are interrelated. Accumulating wealth out of Agriculture seems a mere dream for majority of Nepalese. This correlation between Agriculture and Poverty stands on top of lack of innovation, knowledge, and manual agriculture system. Moreover, the exclusion of necessary workforce for the agricultural development in government policies is a major blunder.
Agriculture Engineeging Expertise in Nepal
Nepal has only one institution that produces Agriculture Engineers. Department of Agriculture Engineering, Purwanchal Campus, IOE is 20 year old institution and has produced more than 1000 agriculture engineers. However, it is disheartening to see every Agriculture Engineer until date, struggle for job in a country with a slogan, “Revolution in Agriculture for Economic Prosperity.” The slogan and reality are contradicting. At times, this institution seems to be one out of those institutions, which produces Engineers for the sake of being expats. On a serious note, policy makers have failed to realize the significance and role of these technicians in leading agricultural sector towards the much needed mechanization and management of agricultural losses.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Engineers are going through a severe identity crisis. A general lack of understanding about Agriculture Engineers and their roles is evident among policy makers and stakeholders. They have failed to realize the need of these human resources in the execution of commercialization, industrialization, diversification, and modernization of agriculture.
Agriculture Engineers have been misinterpreted and have been uniquely associated with mechanization. The fact that they can play a crucial role on storage and processing of agricultural products, the use of structures and facilities, productivity analysis and environmental issues has been overlooked and that too for 2 decades.
Need of High-value Agricultural Products (HVAP)
Nepal cannot imagine economic prosperity via agriculture without practicing High-value Agricultural Products. However, the key insight lies in quality or safety in High-value agriculture resulting from a long process by which a commodity is produced and handled from soil to fork. To be more precise, high-value agriculture offers small-scale farmers the opportunity to participate in a relatively profitable activity. In order to participate, however, they need infrastructural development that connects them to markets and urban centers and they need institutions that link them to high-value food marketing channels.
FAO has stated about the need of intervention for the HVAP approach. The HVAP approach should identify segments of the poor within a less advantaged community. In addition, rapidly increasing the production of a HVAP can cause a collapse in prices and the need to produce more to achieve the same level of income. HVAP by definition should avoid oversupply and reduce market volatility by taking market drivers and growth potential into account. At the same time, the skills and organizational capacity of one group of producers is likely to favor that group with the effect that it squeezes out other farmers and or rural traders due to their being more competitive.
Government’s Role and Reality
Government of Nepal leaped up to 15th Five-year plan starting from 1956. Every Five-year plan has identified Poverty alleviation through agriculture as a major agenda. On the darker side, concerned authorities did not ratify relation between population, poverty and production simultaneously.
Nepal Government’s policies towards agriculture are based on the Constitution of Nepal (Article 51-e) that emphasizes agricultural development: protecting and promoting rights and interests of peasants and utilizing the land use policy for increasing production and productivity of agricultural land. It also endorses commercialization, industrialization, diversification, and modernization of agriculture; and Planning for agricultural tools and an access to market with appropriate price for the products.
Taking a closer look into the policies and comparing it with the existing scenario, they have nothing in common. The ground reality of farmers has been mocking the sweet-smelling policies. I will not hesitate to say that the majority of improvements in the agricultural sector in the recent times has less to do with the role of government and more to do with the Nepali migrants on their return to Nepal and handful of entrepreneurs.
Here are some facts to support my claims. According to the World Bank report in 2014, only 28 percent of the total agricultural land is irrigated (World Bank, 2014) while being proud to be called the second-richest country in the world for fresh water. The data of CBS 2011 reveals that 60 percent of farmers are unable to produce enough agricultural production in order to sustain their livelihood. Nepal had exported paddy before 1975 but it is importing food grains beginning in 1980 (Mishra, 1987).
National Level Plans have been in place for almost 7 decades. The fluctuation in the agricultural growth rates as compared to non-agricultural sectors throughout all these years elucidates the need to execute the policies and optimum utilization of government budget. These propositions cannot be met without taking the human resources like Agricultural Engineers and scientists on board. A strong political will has to assist the marginalized people to form long-term links to HVAP markets. Advocacy should be encouraged to raise political awareness of the HVAP options to alleviate poverty and improving food security.
(Written by : Ashish Dhakal)