Restructuring agriculture

Published On: July 31, 2017 01:00 AM NPT By: Bhairab Raj Kaini

All agriculture related ministries and line agencies should work together on restructuring agriculture. But they are working in isolation. 

The creation of 744 local levels in Nepal marks a major restructuring of local bodies after six decades. This has been done in line with federal structure. As per the new arrangement, Nepal has 481 rural municipalities, 246 municipalities, 13 sub-metropolitan cities and 4 metropolitan cities. These local levels are divided into altogether 6,680 wards. The rural municipalities have 5 to 21 ward units while the municipalities including the sub-metropolises and the metropolises, have 9 to 35 ward units. 

Elections in 617 local units of six provinces (province 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) have already been completed in two phases. Elections for remaining 127 local units for Province 2 have been slated for September 18. 

The government’s priority should now be effective management of local governance system. For this, efforts are concentrated to restructure and reform different state bodies as per the constitution. Part 17 of the constitution has provisions on emerging issue of restructuring agriculture. 

Needless to say, one of the objectives of local level restructuring was to provide qualitative services to local people. But this noble objective can only be met when all the concerned ministries work in coordination. Coordination remains a challenging issue in Nepal. The cabinet secretariat has already set up a division to look at the restructuring of government institutions and employees. This division is said to be looking at the coordination issues among all the ministries. 

Yet neither the concerned line agencies nor the concerned ministries are taking coordination seriously. This holds true to agriculture sector as well. 

Ministry of Agriculture Development, Ministry of Livestock Development, Ministry of Land Reform, Ministry of Irrigation and Ministry of Cooperative and Poverty Alleviation are closely related entities and they must work together on restructuring agriculture. But each is working in isolation. And there are issues of resource constraints. Civil servants seem intent to create problems rather than help solve them.

The government needs to pay special attention to agriculture sector because this sector is different from other institutional setups in that it needs functioning institutions and more competent staff at the bottom to deliver services as per the demands of the farmers. A gazetted third class officer may be required to lead agriculture work even at the village council level. Subject matter specialists may also be required. 

But Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development is proposing gazetted officer to lead the municipality team and a non-gazetted first class staff for village council. This does not serve the need of the agricultural sector. Furthermore, only the officer from the administration service is going to lead the team. If a junior officer from the administration service is leading the team, the senior officer from other services will feel frustrated.  Thus position creation and leadership will continue to be a thorny issue and will require a robust exercise by a team of experts to settle.

While setting up Local Agriculture Office (LAO) by integrating livestock and other closely related agencies in each local level by dissolving existing district level organizations, we may require several additional office buildings and other facilities. Similarly, additional manpower will also be required. Adequate resources, in terms of knowledge, skills, experience, funding, and facilities are required for agriculture research and development. Each LAO needs one training center equipped with necessary facilities and some piece of land of its own.

We need one Community Agricultural Extension Service Center (CAESC) in each ward as proposed by the Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS). The CAESC will be fully owned and managed by the communities and funded by the combination of resources from the local government, cooperatives, private sector, and the provincial government. Each CAESC will be registered according to the law. Membership will be open to all farmers, agro-enterprises, and agricultural extension service providers in the community, and their organizations.

The CAESC will own and manage its own assets, hire its own staff, conduct meetings, formulate business plans, open a bank account, disburse funds, audit accounts and review activities periodically. Governance rules will establish the composition of the board and the way board members are elected by the members of the society. The CAESC will be entirely managed by the community according to governance rules that are clearly established at the outset. Membership fees will be decided by the general assembly. The overall purpose of the centers will be to facilitate extension services at the village level and to meet the demands and needs of technical services at the grassroots. 

The centers will hire  their  own  extension  service  providers  (agricultural  and  livestock  technicians  or  other as per demand) who will receive training and technical backstopping from the local agriculture development offices (LADOs). The center might sign MoUs or contracts with projects, NGOs, or private service providers as well. 

Thus the government needs to support in establishment of several Community Agricultural Extension Service Centers (CAESCs) and equip them with all the facilities. A news Act needs to be devised to make them operational.

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