KATHMANDU, May 21: With several negative impacts on the economic activities amid the growing threat of COVID-19 across the country, the government is expected to come up with effective programs to boost the agricultural sector via the announcement of the budget for fiscal year 2020/21 that is scheduled for May 28.
As the threat of the pandemic is deepening globally, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are expected to return to Nepal. Similarly, there is an uncertainty as to how long it will take to revive the economic activities including the tourism business that have remained completely shut. All these are likely to result in a large scale of unemployment in the country. In this context, the government is expected to launch game-changer programs for the agricultural business.
Economist Keshab Acharya said the government should render priority to boost up the agricultural products to ensure more employment. “It could also aid in maintaining public health amid the ongoing threat of coronavirus,” said Acharya.
Apart from others, the pandemic has also largely affected the farmers as they are unable to send their produce to the market with the nationwide lockdown, which has been in effect for the last two months. According to analysts, the government needs to bring focused programs on the mechanization and commercialization of agriculture along with ensuring easy market access for farm products.
Currently, with the extension of the restrictive measures, the import of food items including rice, pulses, vegetables, fruits and dairy products has been in the rising trend, as per the statistics of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies. Nepal imported more than 183,000 tons of foods during the two months of lockdown. Over the period, the country has been importing essential goods worth more than Rs 1 billion daily.
Year on year, Nepal’s dependence on imported food has been growing, shows the statistics of the Department of Customs. According to the department, Nepal’s agricultural goods import bill ballooned to an all-time high of Rs 220 billion in 2018/19. The figure stood at Rs 215.50 billion in 2017/18.
Nepal’s reliance on foreign markets for agricultural goods has increased nearly fivefold in the past nine years. The food import bill in 2009/10 amounted to Rs 44.43 billion. The import bill jumped to Rs 76.05 billion in 2011/12 and to Rs 99.35 billion in 2012/13. It further ballooned to Rs 127.51 billion in 2013/14.
“If the government is able to boost the agriculture sector, it could help check the country’s ever-growing dependency on imported goods, which in turns will also help check the outflow of foreign currency via import substitution,” Acharya said.