DR. JIBA RAJ POKHAREL
A mood of pessimism pervades the Nepali national scene these days. Events like the dastardly act of the live burial of the journalist Mr. Dikendra Thapa are responsible for this state of affair. The intent of the Government to allow the murderers to go scot free has aggravated the situation rather than mitigating it. But, the increase by 76 per cent as compared to last year in the financing of the agriculture sector by the financial institutions has come as pleasant news to the countrymen like islands of good amidst oceans of bad news. The news of buffalo rearing is yet another silver lining in the dark clouds. This is more so when the country imports almost Rs 500 million of live animals pushing the trade deficit to an all time high of Rs. 396 billion which is almost 32 per cent of the total GDP.
Agriculture not only provides employment to two thirds of the population in Nepal but also contributes to one third of the Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, it has been ignored since a long time now. This is reflected by a rather lower emphasis accorded to it during the allocation of the budget. The Ministry of Defense receives a national budget double that of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives when there is very little to defend in a country sandwiched by two of the Asian giants, India and China. Agriculture in turn has to feed 26.6 million mouths every day.
Thanks to Nepal Rastra Bank that it has come to the rescue of the agricultural sector by announcing a monetary policy which had not only made it mandatory to invest at least 10 per cent in agriculture and energy but also decreased the interest rate from 7 per cent to 6 per cent in agricultural loans. It was aimed at stopping the flight of the work force to the foreign countries as well as the import of agricultural products. As drops of water make an ocean, the cumulative investment by the financial institutions amounted to a breathtaking sum of almost 32 billion. It was a great relief at a time when the resource available to the agricultural ministry as well as the department had been curtailed by a significant amount due to the country financially reeling with only a third of the budget available since the beginning of this financial year.
Over the years there has been an incredible but ironic transformation of the country from a food surplus to a food deficit one. 43 districts out of 75 districts are facing shortage of food. Even the much vaunted Terai as the bread basket of the country is likely to face food deficit this year due to a likely decrease of around 10 per cent of lesser yield compared to the last year due to paucity of rainfall. In the area of crop yield, Nepal was well ahead of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the sixties whether it be paddy, wheat or maize. But three decades down the line in the nineties, Nepal enacted the hare and tortoise race by taking a virtual nap and lagging behind these countries in all these fronts.
In order to develop the agricultural sector in an orderly manner, an agriculture perspective plan had been prepared in the early nineties. This document had been hailed as one of the best ever produced in the country. Unfortunately, more than implementing it it was allowed to gather dust in the shelf. The financing was never at par with the proposition made in the plan with the result that the agriculture sector could never generate the developmental pace as desired.
There are several problems that are rocking the agriculture sector today but the most towering one is the lack of innovation. We are still continuing with traditional mode of farming when other countries have made a dramatic progress in this area. Very recently, farmers were up in the arms because the seeds distributed to them did not grow into saplings.
If we look towards the south in India, it can be seen how they had introduced high yielding cereal crops that resulted into food surplus from food shortage. The Green revolution was marked by the three fold increase in the production of wheat. The person behind this noble deed was no other than Mr. Norman Borlaug who ended up bagging a noble prize at the end. Indians have realized that they need to do something dramatic to feed the ever growing population. For this they have now been advocating for the introduction of genetically modified crops. They have already been successful in producing cotton following this technology, and they are seeking to introduce this spectacular technique in other crops as well. Though the anti biotechnology groups have acted as a stumbling block in its way, it is certain that this technology will be used soon in the future in India.
For the first time the financial institutions have done something to be proud of in Nepal. It is at a time when its image has been badly tarnished due to the lust of some of its owners in a frantic bid to amass huge fortune and be a billionaire overnight. This noble deed of the financial institutions should focus on areas where the country has been importing commodities such as vegetables, fruits and sugar.