--BY KRISHNA RAJ BAJGAIN
Global food supply system was fragile already due to COVID-19, climate change and energy shock. Lately it has further weakened by internecine war within Slavic Civilisation. Russia and Ukraine have banned export of major crops like wheat. Numerous major crop producing countries have followed suit. Food prices have soared and food insecurity is hovering over the countries which are heavily dependent on imports to feed their people and animals. The past experience shows that disruption of global food supply systems has serious impact on social, political and financial health of a country. The main causative factor of the civil war in developing world was primarily the disruption of supplies in major staple food of the country concerned. Overemphasis on cash crops, use of fertile agricultural land for non-agricultural purpose, sudden shift from the traditional practice in agricultural sector, inadequate storage capacity and absence of proper supply system were the major reasons behind the famine and war across Africa and Asia.
World's major suppliers of the food grains tend to make the situation worse and a country becomes trapped in an infinite series of conflict and never gets out of that quagmire. Utopians and traitors are equally responsible for the catastrophe as they erode the fundamental elements of national security. Utopians baffles the entire society by propagating impractical concepts whereas traitors manipulate the entire state mechanism by introducing the policies that seem very attractive among the populace but in effect are corroding national security interests. Agricultural sector in third world is badly affected by such tendencies. Authorised agencies just fudgel, i.e. pretend to work but actually do nothing. In the third world, agricultural development policies are generally proving as Agricultural Discouragement Policies. Same is the case of Nepal which is gradually becoming more and more dependent on imported agricultural products.
King Prithvi Narayan Shah, founder of Modern Nepal, had preached his courtiers some 250 years ago: "If the land is fit for paddy cultivation, shift houses from there to any other place, develop system for irrigation, and develop a paddy field over there.” Following his advice, Nepal adopted belt concept ( Terai region as granary of staple crop, and hilly region as hub of husbandry, cash crops, fruits and medicinal herbs) so as to make Nepal self reliant in agricultural products. But these initiations were nullified by massive urbanisation on fertile agricultural land and massive migration from hills to Terai. Unscientifically constructed roads that induced landslides, land erosion, inundation and massive urbanisation has further aggravated the situation. Nepal pursued foreign employment promotion policy as the guiding principle of economic diplomacy which has brought serious consequences in Nepali society. Shortage of agricultural workers is one of the most serious problem that Nepal is facing for decades.
As in famine-suffering African countries, Nepali state mechanism is heavily influenced by utopians and traitors who always block the self-reliant policy and programme. Supporters of self-reliant policy in agricultural sector are blamed as regressive and anti-democratic elements. As a result, Nepal had to import agricultural products worth of Rs. 324 billion in FY 2020/21 accounting for 21% of the country’s total imports.
Considering all the above aspects, it is necessary for Nepal to adopt a policy of becoming self-sufficient in food. For this, immediate action should be taken in the following areas.
(A) Internalisation of food grains as a pillar of national security
The physical aspects of national security consist of five pillars (food, weapons, energy, fund and manpower). Food is an important weapon of national security without which the decision-making capacity of the country is almost lost. Therefore, making the country self-sufficient in food is regarded as the first priority in the national security policy. A guided reluctance among policy makers, experts, scholars, thinkers, strategists, security experts, security agencies, politicians and the mass media has worsened the situation. This needs to be reformed. In particular, the Nepal Army, the last resort of national security, should intensify the pressure to implement the policy of self-reliance in food.
(B) Restrictions on further urbanisation and settlement development on fertile agricultural land:
Protecting the arable land as sacrosanct is the first duty of every sovereign nation. Therefore, encroachment on arable land is considered a crime. Contrary to this concept, the destruction of arable land is being recognised as the synonym of development in Nepal. The cultivable land of Kathmandu Valley has been completely destroyed and the Government of Nepal has adopted a policy of developing satellite cities on the fertile lands of Makwanpur, Dhading, Nuwakot, Kavrepalanchok and Sindhupalchowk which are supplying at least vegetable to the valley. The 10 modern cities currently under development are all located on fertile land. The whole Terai is also suffering from the same problem. These activities have brought about a huge contraction in agricultural land. The main reason for food dependence in Nepal has been thus uncontrolled urbanisation and settlement development on arable land. The urbanisation at such an alarming rate that Nepal is likely to lead to famine, the country will be plunged into religious and communal war. In view of this aspect, it seems necessary for Nepal to take necessary steps to protect the cultivable land.
(C) Implementation of the belt concept in agricultural sector:
Nepal's main policy should be to develop the Terai as a staple food basket and the hills as centres of animal husbandry and cash crops. Development priorities in the Terai and hills need to be set in order to implement this policy.
(D) Transformation of agriculture as an attractive profession
Nepal's agriculture is still operating on a subsistence basis. In order to change this practice and commercialise agriculture and transform it into an attractive profession, it is necessary to conduct adequate programmes such as grants, incentives, assistance, subsidies, discounts and protection. Physical infrastructure (irrigation, transport network, storage house, information systems) have to be developed accordingly. These activities will make Nepali products competitive with foreign products.
Agriculture is one of the most politicised sectors in Nepal. Thus huge investment in this sector seems impossible. Organised attacks on farmers who hold comparatively more land blaming them as exploiters and feudal lords is one of major obstacles. There is no environment for affluent farmers to live in remote areas. Farming has become more risky due to wildlife as well. Thus it is equally important to make necessary arrangements for the protection of farmers and investment in agriculture.
(Bajgain is Senior Officer in Trade and Export Promotion Centre. The opinions expressed here are his personal.)