Karnali is the largest zone with an area of 21,351 square kilometers, with five districts, 134 VDCs, and no municipality. Karnali region is mainly inhabited by Chhetris, Thakuris, Brahmins, Lamas and Dalits. The 2001 Census registered a total population of 152,100 females and 156,984 males. Extensive food and livelihood insecurity occurs all the year in Karnali. Disparities in income and human development are important elements of Karnali’s poverty profile. The villagers no longer produce enough food for self-sufficiency, so there is chronic food shortage in the region. According to the report of UN World Food Programme 2010, 30 per cent of the population of Karnali suffer from severe malnutrition. This situation is caused by two factors: Firstly, the soil is exhausted through over-exploitation in some areas of high population density; Secondly, livestock farming activities have decreased significantly due to community forestry. Retrospectively, the productive and arable land in Karnali is very limited.
In September 2000, leaders of 189 countries signed the Millennium Development Declaration, a global plan to meet the needs of the world’s most poor and hungry people by 2015, including Nepal. We are now nearing it. At this point, all the districts of Karnali region are failing to meet the MDGs. The measurement tool towards meeting the first MDG is known as the Global Hunger Index. It includes three indicators - child mortality, child malnutrition and percentage of people within a country who are calorie deficient. However, the goal of the first MDG, i.e. to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by 50 per cent, hasn’t been met at all in Karnali because the indicators of Global Hunger Index haven’t been reduced as expected.
The Karnali region ranks top in terms of hunger and of lack of achievement in the development front. It is receiving food aid from the government of Nepal, Nepal Food Corporation (NFC) and World Food Programme (WFP) in the name of Emergency Operation Programme, Quick Impact Programme, Rural Community Infrastructure Works and Food for Education etc. The food aid from different organizations has created dependency, and most of the lands seem barren in Karnali.
Political instability and weak governance often play a role, not only in determining the overall well-being of a region, but also in contributing to the prevalence of hunger and nutritional deficiency.
The Karnali region of Nepal has suffered from decades of food shortage. Economic mismanagement, fatalism and the mind-set to receive aid have contributed to its ranking. The most obvious problem is a dramatic rise in food prices, which has resulted in increased incidences of hunger and malnutrition. The food crisis is also assisted through the results of the climate related problems, changing food habits; higher transportation prices for food; increase in food prices and export bans and restrictions on major grains from India. In Humla district of Karnali alone, the prices of basic foods like cereals have increased by an average of 400 percent compared to the prices in the Terai region of Nepal in 2010..
The situation is already dire, and can still worsen. NFC and WFP are responding to this situation, however only in the short-term by helping people to get the food they need only during times of maximum crisis. However, the short-term measures alone do not constitute a solution to the current crisis. It is a universally acclaimed fact, that importing food cannot solve the problem of food shortage. What is required to address the poverty setbacks in Karnali? Investment got small irrigation projects for Karnali would be very helpful to bring the people back to work in the agricultural sector. In the meantime, the government should ask donor organizations to develop agriculture professionals within the region so that they no longer have to leave their home in search of jobs in the Terai and India.
Agriculture in Karnali needs to be commercialized with improved technology. Supply of food items from WFP and other development agencies needs to be discontinued. The barren farm lands need to come under cultivation, and the people encouraged to produce local crops like buckwheat, millet, potato etc. There is a need to promote the food habit of the local people which was changed since the process of transporting rice from the Terai. Potato, which was produced largely 30 years ago, is a good source of complex carbohydrates. It also contains vitamin C, potassium, iron and zinc. Production of potatoes could solve the food shortage in Karnali.
The local government should set up public stores in the districts where farmers could keep their produce, and sell them when the prices are better. The government should promote the private sector that runs warehouse which store particular commodities for commodities exchange. Farmers can use them more profitably. This system gives them the opportunity to store their commodities in professionally run and secure facilities. Secondly, it gives farmers the opportunity to access markets they would never have.