The government should focus on investing in sheep farming to develop the smart sheds well-equipped with modern facilities for sheep and shepherds in the mountainous region.
--BY KRISHNA RAJ BAJGAIN
Nepal has witnessed 9 per cent average annual increase in wool and woolen fabric’s import in the last fourteen years. In the Fiscal Year 2021/22, raw wool and woolen fabric worth Rs 5.08 billion was imported. Nepal had imported merely worth Rs 1.88 billion of wool and woolen fabric in the fiscal year 2008/09, according to the data published by the Department of Customs.
Steady rise in the import of wool and woolen fabric reflects the potential of wool production in Nepal.
Nepal has formulated a host of policies and programmes since the beginning of planned development which started off in 1956 to encourage wool production within the country. However, wool production has not gained the expected momentum and years of efforts have proved futile, resulting into the exponential rise in the import of wool, wool fabric and woolen products.
Sheep farming has yet to develop and modernize to meet the growing demand of modern woolen industry in Nepal. As a result, Nepal's major exportable products like woolen carpet, Pashmina shawls, readymade garments of woolen fabric and felt items are heavily dependent on wool imported from China and New Zealand.
The failure of the policies and programmes formulated for the development of woolen sector in Nepal is a major research question that should be answered properly to address the genuine problem this sector has been facing for decades.
Mountain region, which is the hub of sheep farming for wool production, is situated at one of the world's most difficult terrains in Nepal. People living in the region don’t have basic amenities for their livelihood.
Farming sheep in such a difficult environment seems almost impossible. Running a sheep farming business, producing wool and making the wool competitive in the international market is not as easy as depicted in PowerPoint Presentations at some conferences in Kathmandu by experts. Such experts are oblivious of ground reality of mountainous regions and difficulty of making livelihood by locals there.
First, sheep farmers’ hardships should be acknowledged and assessed. A proper assessment needs to be conducted to come out with right measures to address the problems facing sheep farmers. The problem begins with the deliberate exclusion of the shepherds in policy making process of wool development in Nepal. Is it possible to run business smoothly in the area without basic facilities such as, education, health, transportation and communication?
If the country is to be truly self-sufficient in wool by reversing the increasing import of wool and woolen products, it is indispensable to take necessary initiatives to make the sheep farming business respectable, comfortable (easier access to modern utilities) and competitive in domestic and international market.
Government should focus on investing in sheep farming to develop the smart sheds for sheep and shepherds in the mountainous region, well-equipped with modern facilities (communication, sanitation, furniture, kitchen, living room and air-conditioners). These amenities will help foster the tourism industry as well.
(Bajgain is a Senior Officer with the Trade & Export Promotion Center. The views expressed here are his personal.)