How can Nepal ensure food security?
Sanjeeb Bimali and Sagar Kafle
Food system is vulnerable to destruction from Covid-19 like health and economy sector. A recent World Bank report predicted that Nepal’s GDP growth will drop to a range of 1.5 to 2.8 percent and is expected to remain the same over next three fiscal years. The report states that “the risk of falling into poverty is high and will increase in 2020”. World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that widespread food insecurity is likely as 4.6 million Nepalese are food-insecure, and 10 percent are in severe need.
Nepal being an agricultural based economy with GDP share around 33 percent and providing employment to around 66 percent of its population is not able to become self-sufficient in food. Total production of the cereal crop is about 10 million tons (Mt) and average post-harvest loss is about 1.5-2 Mt which is more than the average cereals imported (1.4 Mt) in the country. The total vegetable production is about 3.8 Mt per year and its post-harvest loss is estimated to be about 1 Mt and average import is about 1.7 Mt. Including all agricultural produces, the country is facing high agricultural trade deficit of about US$ 1.6 billion in FY 2018/19. Agricultural products were mainly imported from India and this has been halted the export after Covid-19 outbreak.
Impact on Nepal’s food security
The government has declared countrywide lockdown to stop coronavirus transmission and that has directly affected the harvesting of wheat and barley which was expected to increase by 9 percent and potato by 4 percent. Inability to work, unavailability of harvesting machinery along with repair and maintenance facilities has increased the loss in production, affecting the next cropping cycle. Agriculturist and Agricultural Engineers’ technical service as well as Agrovet’s service has been affected, thus creating shortage of seed and fertilizer for planting the spring rice, which has contributed about 9.6 percent in total rice production for FY 2018/19.
Beside cereals, a huge loss vegetable and fruit farmers as well as dairy and poultry Industries have incurred huge losses. Currently, farmers are in the phase of harvesting watermelon, tomato, potato, leafy vegetables, cauliflower and cabbage. But restriction in movement has affected the delivery of vegetable items to the market. It causes huge loss on small and marginal farmer income and livelihood. Price and scarcity has made a new history. Farmers are destroying their products which has not only made them economically weak but also has demotivated them to continue with their profession and demoralized youth to start farming.
The government’s agricultural program has also been halted whereas stomachs to feed are increasing. Nepal has around 4 million labour migrants and they are returning to the country after losing their jobs, especially in India. It will add more food insecure districts. Previously 33 out of 77 districts were food insecure.
The virus is spreading further and the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that transmissions will go worse. So, to cope with the impact of Covid-19 all three tiers of the government need to focus on devising a plan.
All tiers of government need to estimate the total food demand at each government level. Local governments need to collect data as soon as possible and make the mechanism to buy the farm products at the farmers’ gate. They need to create a task force to ease the farmer for harvesting of their product and safe storage, marketing and distribution to the demand site. Provincial government needs to coordinate to ease the movement of the farmers and farm labourers. Animal feed industries need to be operated and the feed should be transport to the farms. Federal government needs to bring the policy of no agro products export, promotion of local product on the relief food package. It needs to request the all citizens to use own farm products. Each level of government needs to create the enabling environment for cultivation of next crop with all necessary seed fertilizer machineries and irrigation available at the farmers’ gate.
Each level of government needs to control supply and demand management of food focusing on “no export”. Local level government needs to promote kitchen garden and urban farming of short cycle vegetable. Local market, dairy and meat stall need to strengthen to ensure the regular supply of product. Cold storage rooms need to be installing on both the collection centre and market outlet. Provincial government need to promote medium level farm for collective or virtual land consolidation with subsidy on basic in infrastructure development, insurance and buy back agreement. They should develop agricultural wholesale market, cold storage, processing centre, seed bank and other post-harvest structure. Federal government need to come with the relief programme to support all types of farmers, to cultivate all the cultivatable areas. It needs to coordinate with all the cross-cutting ministries to ensure basic inputs of cultivation. It needs to bring special programmes on post-harvest management of cereals and vegetables. It needs to bring the interest subsidy program for large farmers. All the three governments need to focus on the programme that attracts the youth and foreign-returned citizens.
Every level of government needs to ensure sufficient food production for their citizen. Local government needs to come with direct programmes like farmers’ capacity building like training and workshop and develop link between marginal farmers with the financial institute. They need to hire the human resources with knowledge on agri-machineries, innovative irrigation techniques, post-harvest operations, like agricultural engineer and agricultural experts to make better programmes on production control, demand supply management, reducing post-harvest loss and development of Agri-entrepreneurs. Provincial government needs to focus on the research and development of cost-efficient agriculture production. It needs to support medium agriculture-based industries. Federal government needs to focus on the agriculture-based technology management. It should analyse the production and national demand and needs to formulate national food export and import policy. Agriculturist and Agricultural engineer’s expertise need to be used in every step of production and management by all the governments.
Each level of government needs to make the sufficient stock of the food material for at least three years. Local level government need create the ware house to store non-perishable goods. It needs to maintain stock products and the production requirement of semi-goods and maintain regular production of perishable goods like vegetable dairy meat and egg. Provincial government needs to focus on the construction and making buffer stock of food grain and seed of cereal crops. It needs to establish Rapid Bioassay of Pesticides Residue (RBPR) with UV light disinfection system in every wholesale market. It needs to establish a dry meat, egg and milk powder industries and keep stock of these type of foods. Federal government needs to strengthen stocks of fertilizers, required technology, irrigation and other stocks. It needs to establish phytosanitary lab and animal product contamination testing laboratory to stop contamination at every import point.
With the collaborative effort of all the tiers of the government, development organizations, and the private sector we can not only secure Nepal’s food security but also can make our country self-dependent on food. Besides that, it will help to create farm employment on agri-based industries. It will help Nepal to stop outbound youth labour migrants and stem trade loss, heading country towards positive economic growth.
Bimali is an Engineer at Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. Kafle is a Secretary at Nepalese Society of Agricultural Engineers (NSAE) and Lecturer at Purwanchal Campus, Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University.
Published on 20 May 2020