Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Learn and earn: Practical education to solve real-world problems

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Keshav Bhattarai and Buddhi Gyawali

 

Keshav Bhattarai

  

Buddhi Gyawali

Overview

Employment in agricultural sector  has decreased in Nepal in successive periods; for examples, 82 percent in 1991, 74 percent in 2000, 70 percent in 2010, 67 percent in 2015 to less than 64 percent in 2019. The employment in industrial sectors has increased from 2.76 percent in 1991, 10.52 percent in 2000, 12.99 percent in 2010, 14.14 percent in 2015, and 15.11 percent in 2019. 

Likewise, the employment trend in service sectors is changing in Nepal from 15 percent in 1991, 14 percent in 2000 (declined due to the Maoist insurgency), 17 percent in 2010, 19 percent in 2015, and 21 percent in 2019. Percentage of agricultural land has increased first and decreased recently in Nepal; for examples, 24.8 percent in 1961, 24.9 percent in 1970, 28.6 percent in 1980, 29 percent in 1990, 29.6 percent in 2000, 28.8 percent in 2010, 28.7 percent in 2015, and 28.5 percent in 2019. 

Average out migration of Nepali is 4.353 percent as of 2022. It was less than one percent in 1991, reached to climax, 10.462 percent in 2010 due to the post-Maoist insurgency effects. It was 1.498 percent in 2018, 2.203 percent in 2019, 2.92 percent in 2020, 3.636 percent in 2021 and 4.353 percent in 2022.  Nepal imports large quantity of vegetables and fruits worth billions of rupees annually.

The overall import of agricultural products has increased by 30 percent in 2021 from Rs. 250 billion of 2019-20. In an agricultural country, the import of agricultural products is 21 percent of the overall import of Nepal’s Rs. 1.53 trillion in 2021.  Edible oil, soybean oil, cereal and sugars were among the largest imported agricultural products. Edible oil alone increased by Rs. 53 billion from 2019-2020.

Nepal makes good profits from the export of edible oil.

Nepal also imports animal fodder equivalent to Rs. 22.03 billion, and vegetable Rs.38.50 billion annually. Indeed, in 2009-2010, the import of overall agricultural products was merely Rs. 44.43 billion that has swelled up today.

Though the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) puts no provision for tariffs payment on goods exported from less developed countries like Nepal, yet Nepal pays high tariffs on oil exports. Despite paying tariffs, Nepal makes good profits from the export of edible oil. Honestly saying, Nepal imports edible oils from South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, processes it, and exports excess of oil to India and makes profits. Nepal also imports maize of over Rs16 billion and wheat of Rs12 billion annually. In 2003, Nepal spent Rs. 10 billion to import rice, in 2010, the amount was Rs. 44 billion, in 2015, it was Rs. 213 billion and in 2017, it was Rs. 246 billion.

What message the overview gives?

An agricultural country Nepal once used to export rice and other agricultural products, now it not only imports agricultural products, but it also exports able bodied human power, and leaves productive agricultural land barren.  The land under agriculture is decreasing, productivity is declining, and Nepal is importing agricultural products each year sending hard earned foreign currencies. Though income from remittance has increased in successive years, the government uses such foreign currencies in importing billions of worth vegetables, fruits, and grains in successive years. As a result, various employment opportunities are lost, and economy is not growing as it should have been.

Because of the lack of job opportunities within the country, many have migrated out for remittance purposes.

Agriculture is demanding much improvement to create job opportunities. Because of the lack of job opportunities within the country, many have migrated out for remittance purposes. The contributions from remittances to the country’s overall economy of Nepal has increased, for examples, the contribution of remittance to the gross domestic products (GDP) of Nepal was 1.5 percent in 1993, two percent in 2000, 21.6 percent in 2010, and  24.1 percent in 2020. Despite this increase, it cannot be considered as a sustainable solution.  This precarious situation needs to draw the attention of the government from policy perspectives.

What the government has done?

Hoping to assist in rebuilding the Covid-19 victimized nation’s economy through agriculture, in 2022 (2079 BS), the government has set aside Rs. 55.97 billion (3.34 percent of the total budget) for agriculture. The government aims to mechanize farming with the consolidation of smaller plots putting some stringent conditions on farming. The government also aims to develop appropriate land use map with ten categories within six months, and penalize landowners if farmlands are left unused. It also aims to encourage communal farming. All these are aimed to reduce the import of agricultural food products by 30 percent and save the hard-earned foreign currencies from importing agricultural products. Realizing that much of productive agricultural lands have been converted to residential building, the government has recommended that for the construction of a residential building, the parcel must be at least 130 sq. meters (4 anaas 1.4 dams) in the Kathmandu Valley. Similar restrictions have been imposed for other geographic regions.

The overall goal is to alleviate poverty with the maximum utilization of available lands and create jobs by promoting a production-based economy.

The government also has introduced Kisan Pension Scheme, aims to build at least 100 warehouses across the country for which Rs. 450 million has been allocated.  To help farmers, the government aims to facilitate loan disbursement and has created a starting fund of Rs. 500 billion. The government also plans to start technical education in 1,200 schools across the country for which Rs. 8300 million has been set aside. To facilitate educational institutions, Rs. 100 million has been allocated for digital boards and internet facilities in at least 20 schools in different provinces. The overall goal is to alleviate poverty with the maximum utilization of available lands and create jobs by promoting a production-based economy.

Ambitious plan

Mapping the entire country with ten categories of land use map becomes a Herculean task. With the traditional methods, it is not possible to achieve the goals within stipulated time. However, using Google Earth Engine (GEE) and mobilizing available human resources, it may be possible to map the entire country within 2-3 months.  

Possible way out

The 753 municipalities of Nepal have a provision of having at least one trained engineer. These engineers have a good exposure to computer programming and are familiar with some computer programming languages. If they are not, these engineers are so enriched with theoretical knowledge that within a week or so, they can pick-up smaller computer programing skills and can handle geospatial technology very easily. Colleges in every seven provinces of Nepal have computer programming courses.

Utilizing the twin human power of engineers working at the municipalities and computer trained students from various colleges, the government can achieve its ambitious goals.

Students are always looking for internship opportunities. It is time to make a connection between 753 municipalities, use the skills of engineers working for municipalities, provide internship opportunities to college students trained in computer programming languages, engage student interns, expose them to new technology, make them responsible to solve challenging issues. Utilizing the twin human power of engineers working at the municipalities and computer trained students from various colleges, the government can achieve its ambitious goals of land use mapping programs of Nepal within the stipulated time frame.

Technology transfer: A possibility

 In 2019, erstwhile Honorable Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali on his visit to New York at the UN Summit, visited Chicago to address a conference of Brain Gain Initiative (BGI). In his address, he said “there are hundreds of Nepali scholars working in various countries.” They often visit Nepal for various purposes. During their visits, he advised to come in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and express their desire to present a talk on the areas of their expertise.  The Ministry then will make arrangement for their talk programs based on their availability and interest. The ministry will facilitate their accommodations and transportation should they have to be away from their homes.

Every Nepali scholar loving their motherlands may contribute their time to transfer their expertise to appropriate educational institutions.

Two groups of faculty from American Universities spent their two weeks duration in Gulmi in 2019 training educators, students, and peoples’ representatives. The feedbacks from the trainees were encouraging. If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or other government agencies desire to tap this opportunity, every Nepali scholar loving their motherlands may contribute their time to transfer their expertise to appropriate educational institutions or to government agencies at various levels.

This will help transfer technology at minimal cost while the Nepali scholars working in foreign countries will also feel deeply connected to their motherland. Students and educators in Nepal will find an opportunity to learn something new from different perspectives. These students and educators may transfer their learned skills to others at cheaper costs. Students from educational institutions may find this a learn and earn opportunity as a part of their internship. 

Learn and earn opportunity

Let us talk about the specific issue of land use mapping as an example to revolve the current ambitious target of the Nepali Government. In the Budget of 2079-80, the Nepal Government has taken an ambitious plan to develop land use maps of Nepal into ten categories. This becomes a Herculean task to accomplish. However, if the available human power is utilized properly, this can be achieved in a timely manner with quality results. For example, Google Earth Pro is a freely available software. The Government of Nepal provides internet and computer facilities to municipalities. Educational institutions have internet and computer facilities. These facilities can handle Google Earth Pro.

Students will have the opportunity to “learn and earn” during the internship and the municipalities can accomplish their tasks within the given time.

Different municipalities may seek opportunities to train their engineers in geospatial data handling techniques using Google Earth Engine. Since Google Earth Engine (GEE) utilizes various commuter programming languages, the most commonly used in GEE and mostly taught in Nepali educational institution is a JavaScript. Let us assume that Nepali students are trained in the JavaScript at various levels. Using this JavaScript within the GEE platform, interning students in various municipalities under the supervision of the trained engineer, may help writings codes that will help mapping the territories of a municipality. Engineers may train them for a week or so to perform mapping jobs. These maps can be saved and displayed in QGIS another freely available software.

In doing so, students will have the opportunity to “learn and earn” during the internship and the municipalities can accomplish their tasks within the given time. When inquired to various municipalities during our previous visits to Nepal about the “learn and earn” approach, we were told that it is hard to find well trained responsible students to undertake such internship jobs.

It is time for the Nepali educational institutions to impart education that is applicable to solve the real-world problems. Nepali educational institutions should embark from teaching merely theoretical stuff to real-world problem-solving technical skills. This has been one of the serious drawbacks of the Nepali education. If practical aspects are taught in Nepali educational institutions, Nepali students will excel in any educational institutions of the world. Such an approach will make the educator responsible; students will get the practical education. It is time for the Nepali educational institutions to take challenges as opportunities and improve the educational quality from mere theoretical memorizing practices to practical real-world problem-solving approaches.

This learn and earn opportunity if implemented with proper training, it will help develop proper land use maps. Such land use map will help to: a) identify the suitability of agricultural lands for different types of crops in different geographic regions; b) find out whether the land is left barren or not; c) assess proper tax on the land, and d) plan for future activities.  This may assist the government to achieve the ambitious plan unveiled in the budget of 2079-80 BS.

Bhattarai is a Professor of Geography at University of Central Missouri. He can be reached at [email protected]

Gyawali is a Professor of Agriculture at Kentucky State University. He can be reached at [email protected]

Published on 10 June 2022

 

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