That Nepal’s agriculture sector is not producing enough to meet the needs of its about 30 million people is a reality. Despite having potentials for growing a huge amount of crops, vegetables and fruits, most of our fertile lands in the hills and plains remain barren. We are importing fruits, vegetables, even food grains, mostly from India. Official figures show Nepal imported agriculture products worth Rs 200 billion in the last fiscal year and it’s in the increasing trend. The failure of the country to make the country self-reliant on basic items like vegetables was starkly felt this year, when due to its own poor harvest, India banned export of onions. As a result, the price of onions went too high for the households of moderate means to afford. Nepali households are bearing the brunt of sky-high (as much as Rs 250 per kg) price of onions and many households are skipping onions in their meals. Surely, we would have been able to avert such situation if the nation had a well-functioning agriculture production system in place. A long-term project in this regard was long overdue and the government, three years ago, executed one such program: The Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP) solely funded by the government budget for the duration of 10 years. The idea was to expand the blocks, zones and super zones every year and to address the supply-side constraints by boosting productivity.
But as with most government-funded projects, PMAMP has not been able to meet its objectives. According to the Republica report, fiscal and physical progress of the priority project stand far below the target. The project, centered on enhancing production, processing and marketing, has a bleak progress record. Neither the budget initially estimated for each year of the project has been allocated by the government nor the allocated budget been spent to the required level. For example, a total of Rs 15 billion was allocated for the first three years of the project against the Rs 22.58 billion envisioned by the project document. The project was able to spend only 48 percent of the allocated budget. In the first three years, a total of 4,500 small commercial agricultural production centers (pockets) of 10 hectares each, 450 commercial agricultural production centers (blocks) of 100 hectares each, 120 commercial agricultural production and processing centers (zones) of 500 hectares each and 16 large-scale commercial agricultural production and industrial centers (super zones) of 21,000 hectares each had to be established. But in reality, only 2,700 pockets, 336 blocks, 114 zones and 16 super zones have been established so far.
Among other things, inadequate human resources, agricultural inputs like seeds and irrigation, use of technology, market and transportation, centralized planning in a federal setup, politicization and elite capture of agriculture grants and lack of better project governance have been identified as the factors leading to this situation. These have to be corrected. Of course, this is not to say that the project has failed. It has at least helped in the establishment of laboratories, high-tech green houses, cold storage facilities and purchase of machinery in some of the places. But what good are these if they are not operational? Besides, irregularities have been suspected in procurement of mobile laboratory vans. Needless to say, success of this project is vital for revitalizing the country’s agriculture sector and for meeting the goals of the Zero Hunger Challenge National Action Plan (2016-2025) by increasing productivity. And increasing productivity is vital to make agriculture sector a critical driving force for economic growth in the real sense. Contribution of agriculture sector to the GDP has decreased to 26.24 percent in 2017 from 31.6 percent in 2007. This has to be improved too. The government, and Ministry of Agriculture, must work to correct the shortcomings of the past and make PMAMP a driver of increasing Nepal’s agriculture productivity.