Two years after National Farmers’ Commission started to work, people are asking why we need such commission when it cannot make necessary policy interventions
In Nepal, issue of farmer commission was raised by some farmers’ organizations while preparing Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS). But the government formed National Farmers’ Commission (NFC) on January 23, 2017. The commission was formed as per National Farmers Commission and Operation Order (2073 BS). It has seven members and work for the protection of rights and interests of farmers. Chitra Bahadur Shrestha has been appointed as Chairperson of the Commission. The primary function of NFC is to study and analyze every aspect of Nepal’s agriculture sector and give suggestion to the government on required agriculture policies, laws and programs. NFC is also responsible to boost commercial farming in the country and recommend the government on necessary measures to achieve agricultural targets and goals.
The NFC is also mandated to crosscheck whether or not the current agricultural subsidies being doled out are reaching the actual farmers and submit a report on it to Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MOALD). It also has to work on ways to increase access of farmers to the market, increase their technological awareness, and protect their rights and interests.
Execution of programs on management of the market for agro-products, operation of agro-products processing plants, establishment of research centers for boosting agricultural production and agriculture education are also added to its mandate. The National Farmers’ Commission and Operation Order also envisages NFC’s units in all 75 districts of the country and developing a concrete report and database of Nepal’s agriculture industry.
Two years after NFC’s started to work, there has been no tangible output except submission of few reports to the ministry. This has raised many questions about its relevance. Why is this commission needed when it is ineffective in making necessary policy interventions?
Implementation of ADS, restructuring of agriculture in the context of federalization and protection of agricultural lands are three main challenges facing Nepal’s agriculture sector. The NFC could have initiated rigorous exercises on these three issues and lobby for effective government initiative to address them. Similarly, it could have worked on finding ways for making agricultural subsidy more effective. Although agricultural subsidies are increasing in recent years, production has not increased as anticipated. Misuse of farm subsidies is one of the major reasons behind low agriculture productivity growth. Subsidy and grants are misused by political cadres and social elite. In order to prevent such misuses, the NFC should have initiated some interventions. Subsidy works as stimulus for agricultural development only when it is utilized properly.
Although there is high potential for sugarcane industry in Nepal, it is confronted with numerous challenging issues. Three of them that demand immediate attention are bitter relationship between farmers and sugar producers, random process of determining sugarcane price and delayed payment. NFC could have played proactive role to address these issues. It did not.
There are countries where agriculture commissions have worked very effectively to increase agricultural growth by addressing pressing issues. National Commission on Farmers (NCF) of India is one. Constituted on November 18, 2004 under chairmanship of Professor MS Swaminathan to address nationwide calamity of farmers’ suicides, the commission submitted five reports to the government within its two years (2004-2006) period. It mainly focused on issues of access to resources and social security entitlements. It contained suggestion for inclusive growth of farmers and agriculture sector in India. It was aimed at working out a system for food and nutrition security and sustainability in farming system. Besides, it also recommended necessary measures for credit and other marketing related steps. The government of India implemented its recommendations.
Another success story of farmers’ commission relates to Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in European Union (EU). The EU is one of the largest global exporters and importers of agricultural products. Its export of agricultural goods, mainly high value or processed products, accounts for about 17 percent of total global trade. The EU established a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the aftermath of the Second World War, following a long period of rationing and food shortages. The CAP sets out the European Union (EU)’s common approach to agriculture and its system of payments. The policy is implemented by the agriculture department of European Commission.
At present, Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of most important components of the European Union, both in terms of budget and its impact on EU’s 500 million citizens. Through a combination of direct payments to farmers, measures to regulate agricultural commodity markets and grants for improving the environment, the CAP exerts significant influence over the European countryside and rural livelihoods, as well as global food prices and availability. Moreover, as a key player in the World Trade Organization (WTO), the EU’s agricultural policy can shape global trade agreements.
Cause of failure
So why is Nepal’s National Farmers’ Commission not effective enough? Politicization of the commission is one among many reasons. First, it was formed through lobbying and policy intervention of politically motivated farmers’ organizations. It was the major demand of the National Peasants’ Coalition (NPC) for a long time. All the members in NFC come from political background. NFC was formed with strong representation of farmers’ organizations and experts were either excluded or barely represented.
Moreover, the commission has been established as one of the permanent organizations under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. In other countries, such commissions are usually formed for a short period with special terms of reference. In determining each member’s qualifications, the appointing authority should have taken into consideration the appointee’s demonstrated past performance in agriculture and ability to understand, appreciate and promote the purpose of the commission. The farmers’ commission should focus primarily on agriculture. At the same time it should also work cooperatively with other related agencies to make sure that the concerns and interests of farmers are better understood and considered in their decision-making processes. None of this happened. The result is we have a farmers’ commission sitting idle.