The current scenario of our country’s agricultural sector looks bleak. Much concern has been expressed over the increasing amount of imported food grains and the plummeting capacity of our agro production.
But despite the dismal circumstances, farmers who have been invested in the fields insist that they have not given up and continue with their efforts. In fact, many of them are trying to encourage one another to expand their horizons and businesses. Priyanka Gurung reports.
When the Trade and Export Promotion Center (TEPC) reports showed almost a five-fold increase in Nepal’s imported food grains, it immediately prompted many discussions, articles and debates.
The estimated 30 billion rupees that was spent on the imports during the first ten months of the last fiscal year alone emphasized our agro crisis and once again, forced the authorities to review the threat of losing our identity as an agricultural country.
The furor that was brought on by the report was intense but, as we see now, it has also been brief. The interest around the fate of agriculture has yet again dwindled and those working the fields aren’t exactly surprised.
Sanish Lageju, a third generation farmer from Bhaktapur, states the country’s agricultural productivity and growth slump was no news for them. As farmers they had sensed it a long time ago. Further, even after the big, bold headlines, he hasn’t seen any urgency for necessary reforms where it really matters.
“As always, issues of agriculture aren’t glamorous enough to shake a nation. It slips through the cracks,” says Lageju.
He cites examples of some acquaintances currently keen on starting businesses in agriculture. According to him, despite their capabilities, they are being discouraged by the inconveniencies poised by some of the policies – a factor that has been discussed many times before. Many of the agricultural policies have been deemed impractical for new as well as old farmers but regardless of enthusiastic discussions on several media outlets earlier this year, Lageju claims, he hasn’t seen any initiatives being taken to reform them yet.
Photo: Bikash Karki
He explains the case of his acquaintances. They are apparently trying to find a way around locating suitable farming lands and the issues of dual land ownership that comes with it.
“New business is crucial for agriculture development especially in the present scenario. But in reality, even those who are interested find it very difficult to start one because of our policies or should I say, the lack thereof,” says Lageju.
And he isn’t the only farmer who harbors this sentiment. Everyone have their own share of grievances. Pradip Raj Panta, who has been involved in integrated agriculture for the last five years, for instance, has his own experiences of how our system has been failing farmers. His latest episode involved the grant policy started by the Ministry of Agriculture last year.
“There was 50 % deduction on the price of a pickup truck that would come in handy to transport milk and animals. I met the criteria and even asked the authorities to come and inspect my farm but despite my cooperation, the process of acquiring the truck was harrowing. I had to face obstacles each step of the way for no apparent reason,” shares Panta.
While he is mainly disheartened by the sheer unavailability of facilities provided by the government for the farmers, on the other side of the town, Suman Maharjan, a mushroom farmer from Chitlang, worries about the lack of government’s vision in the nation’s agricultural technological development. Maharjan, for one, dreams of being capable of growing mushrooms throughout the year in Nepal but as things stands, he is certain, he will have to attempt this on his own.
“When I spoke to those from the Ministry of Agricultural Development, the Regional Agriculture Directorate, I unfortunately discovered that they don’t have any knowledge of mushroom farming. I can’t speak for other types of farming but in my field, they are pretty much clueless,” says Maharjan, boldly stating that he doesn’t expect any agricultural development or modernization plans from them anytime soon.
The reasons behind the drop in our country’s agricultural production capabilities are indeed a culmination of several factors and they are all evident. The farmers themselves don’t see any reason to sugar-coat facts about the distressing scenario. However, they are also keen to stress that many of them have refused to simply surrender to the circumstances.
Maharjan adds, “Personally, I stopped counting on government aid long time ago. It’s unfortunate that farmers find themselves in circumstances where they have to largely rely on themselves but that’s the best option for us at the moment. “
On closer inspection, we can see that this sort of attitude has benefited many farmers. For example, Maharjan continues to take trainings in mushroom farming from China and India. This is his own initiative. Similarly, Lageju and Panta also talk of their own abroad trainings that they have personally invested in. All three of them believe that these played a crucial role in developing not only their knowledge but also their vision and goals for their respective agricultural ventures.
This brings up a rather essential point of the importance of empowering farmers. Panta who is determined to not just limit himself to traditional animal husbandry and is attempting to rear a breed of cows that is more suitable for our climate and purposes, in particular, feels the need to expand the definition of being a farmer.
“Gone are the days when being a farmer only implied working in the field but many Nepali farmers have yet to understand this. I believe if most of them got enough information on the prospects, they’d dare to do more. You can even work around financial or technical challenges if you have agricultural know-how,” says Panta.
And this has proven to be true in cases of Maharjan and Lageju as well. After collecting investment for his business through his own networks, today Maharjan employs the most sophisticated techniques and modern technologies in Nepal to harvest mushroom. His AC equipped cropping rooms in Chitlang has already begun drawing visitors from around the country. But his plans don’t end there. He intends to further expand his mushroom farm and eventually become the first agricultural venture to structure share provisions as a public limited company.
Similarly, bothered by problems of degrading seed quality, Lageju decided to build his own seed lab. In fact, because of his training, he was able to experiment with more modern and lucrative methods. The risk totally paid off and he has been successful in ushering the method of using liquid culture in making mushroom seeds for the very first time in Nepal.
Away from the slew of grim headlines that surrounds our agro based industry, all three of them serve as reminders that there are still many possibilities and opportunities to be grasped in Nepal’s agricultural sector. It’s not that they haven’t run into challenges opposed by the policies or lack of assistance, infrastructure and guidance but either way, they continue to strive on.
“Discussions over the fate of agriculture heat up and fizzle out but throughout it all we have been working at our pace,” says Lageju, “Of course, there is lot still to be done on the government’s part but while they get their act together, it doesn’t mean we have to feel helpless either.”
To spread this spirit of empowerment in the community, he along with Bhaktapur’s ‘Aadhunik Krishi Sahakari’ has come on their own investment scheme to grow various vegetables as well as raise boars. They have also reopened a free market space where farmers can come and sell their produce to the local customers. They see these small initiatives as ways of making lives easier for farmers and helping them make the most of the opportunities available.