KATHMNADU, April 3: Experts and activists on Friday drew the attention of the government over the adverse effect on the agriculture sector in the country due to nationwide lockdown imposed to stem the novel coronavirus.
Issuing a statement on Friday, a group of nine professionals from various sectors urged the government of all three tiers to introduce special relief packages to farmers and take effective measures to overcome the new challenges in the agriculture sector due to the lockdown.
Signatories of the statement include agricultural scientist Dr Ram Prakash Yadav, National Assembly member Dr Bimala Rai Poudyal, former secretary Rameshwor Khanal, human right activists Dr Renu Adhikari and Sushil Pyakurel, agro development expert Yamuna Ghale, writer Tika Dhakal and journalist duo Rajendra Dahal and Kanak Mani Dixit.
In the statement, they also stressed for the need of reforming and redefining agriculture through the use of new knowledge and advanced technology.
“At the time of this lockdown, farmers tend either to stop their routine works due to lockdown restrictions or to destroy their products due to lack of market and proper supply mechanisms. Since this sector is the backbone of Nepal's economy, it’s an urgent need to save it from the negative impact of this lockdown orders and establish it as a dignified and productive occupation with a long term vision, policies and programs,” the statement reads.
They also asked the government to encourage farmers to carry out agricultural activities by adopting proper safety precautions during this period so that supply of necessary goods would not be affected. In addition, they also expected the government to introduce necessary policies and programs to attract youths to this sector.
In this time of crisis, many youths working as migrant laborers abroad tend to return and remain jobless. Therefore, the government of all three levels should foresee the situation and make the necessary plans, according to them.
They suggested the government introducing plans to encourage the farmers for commercial and extensive practice through various incentives, training, agricultural tools and market.
Here is the full text of the appeal:
Amidst the Covid-19 crisis: Save the Farm, Empower Farmers, Enhance Agriculture
The entire world has been affected by the Coronavirus, Nepal being no exception. The lockdown is an effective measure to secure population from the virus, and the citizenry is required to observe the strictures.
The lockdown has particularly affected activities which require physical participation of individuals. Farming is one such activity, and it is linked to the life and livelihood of a overwhelming proportion of the country’s population. The Coronavirus lockdown’s impact on agricultural activity and its domino effect on the economy and people’s livelihood is bound to be deep and into the long term, yet there has been scarce discussion in the public sphere about the challenges faced at this time by the farming sector.
It is imperative that the federal, provincial and local governments as well as civil society countrywide focus on protecting the farming sector and improving agricultural activities using innovation and new knowledge. The insecurity that has overwhelmed our agriculturalists must be addressed even as plans are made for revival. Even as we tackle various fears and uncertainties, we cannot forget the peasantry and the rural economy, which are so central to the nation's present and future.
Over the past two weeks of lockdown, farm produce such as vegetables, milk and eggs have got wasted due to absence of market, while consumers have been deprived of essential foods. The wheat crop is ready for harvest, but the widespread understanding that one cannot work in the fields is leading to wastage of farmers’ effort. This is the time to plant corn in the midhills, but farmers are in two minds about visiting the terraces. Spring rice planting has also been hit by the lockdown, and everywhere livestock is going hungry.
It is a sad reality that agriculture has been progressively sidelined over the decades in the governmental as well as popular imagination, whereas this is the sector which holds the promise of productive employment and prosperity for the people. We have a duty to save farming from the impact of the Coronavirus, with a clear perspective on the present challenge while working to revive farming as a long term, profitable and dignified occupation and an attractive alternative to foreign employment.
We signatories see the need for immediate steps to support farming activity during the lockdown, while instituting long term plans and policies. Recognising the programmes already put in place by the Federal Government as well as its Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, we make the following appeal:
Let us continue farming activity in mountain, midhill and plain, as there is no danger of spread of Coronavirus working in the fields at five-six feet distance. Let us not stop taking livestock to pasture, and let us continue to cut grass and tree fodder. The virus will also not transfer easily if one maintains personal hygiene while keeping distance for a minimum two weeks from those who have come from elsewhere. The message calling for a return to the field must receive immediate and maximum broadcast so as to reassure peasantry all over the country.
It is certain that a large proportion of citizens who have gone as job migrants to India, the Gulf, Malaysia and elsewhere will be returning due to the downturn in the global economy. Indeed, this trend has already begun. Nepal’s international job migrants make up a large part of the population and come mainly from farming households. It will therefore benefit the society and economy if the returnees are facilitated to return to the farmstead. The exposure, knowledge and skills brought back by this community of migrants will of great help modernising agricultural practice. A strategy that builds a welcoming environment for the returning youth can turn the Coronavirus crisis into an opportunity to make the country self-sufficient in food production.
Because farming is practiced in the village while policy is formulated by the federal and provincial governments, the two authorities must support local governments if we are to see a turnaround in agriculture. We are clear that the variegated situation in each province, according to elevation, soil condition, climate as well as social circumstance, will require place-specific interventions. In the immediate context of the lockdown, we see the need to identify and isolate villages, wards and municipalities where the virus has not been observed, while supporting local government to revive farming activity everywhere.
All urban and village municipalities must work immediately to ensure transport of produce from farm to market, with the federal and provincial governments providing the financial and administrative support required for this vital effort.
Daily cleaning of farmers’ markets is essential, with appropriate disinfectants used safely. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development must immediately focus on providing local units with required material and expertise.
The practice of selling poultry and meat within vegetable markets must end. Village and urban municipalities must develop permanent units which will monitor standards in farmers’ markets and ensure separation in the sale of vegetable and poultry/meat. Keeping in mind the dangers of Covid-19 to the lungs, local governments must immediately work to make available mechanical equipment for the threshing of wheat, linseed and pulses.
Beyond the present crisis, we recommend that the agreed price for the key crops (rice, wheat and corn) must be set at the time of planting, and provincial authorities must work with local governments to ensure that this pricing is implemented. Given that produce prices tend to rise a few months after harvest time, a ‘future contract’ system should be implemented to ensure income of farmers. Since it is observed that the prices escalate after a couple of months of harvest and confirmation of agreed pricing, farmers must be availed of storage so that those who have accepted agreed pricing will be able to take advantage of the escalated price as well. To make all of this possible, village and urban municipalities must start build systems for modernised food storage, which will also allow individual peasant households to store their produce. We call for a public warehousing law to be adopted so as to develop the future-market for agricultural products.
We recommend that the land ceiling be removed in the case of institutional agriculture conducted under farmers’ cooperatives or public limited companies with shares held by farmers. There should be a programme for cash grants to units engaged in institutional agriculture, geared towards land development and farming, harvesting, storage and mechanisation.
All existing insurance schemes for agriculture should be reviewed and all instruments available in general insurance should be made available to farmers. The system should ensure a minimum 50 percent of the insurance fee payment to be picked up by the provincial government.
Peasant families should be provided full scholarship for higher study in fields such as agricultural and livestock science, veterinary education, tissue-culture, agriculture engineering, agricultural marketing and economy.
The letter and spirit of Article 36 of the Constitution as well as the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act (2018) require that the provincial and local governments ensure the people’s right to food and food security through building of required infrastructure, management systems and programmes. Against this constitutional and legislative backdrop, we call for the diligent implementation of the five-point policy within nine priority sectors announced recently by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, giving due regard to indigenous crops and knowledge systems.
The last few decades has seen increased involvement of women in agricultural activity, to the extent that 70 precent of those involved in farming today are female. We therefore appeal to the provincial and local governments to ensure that reliable information, implements, technology and skills are made easily available with special reference to women in the agricultural workforce.
1. Dr. Ram Prakash Yadav, Agricultural Scientist
2. Dr. Bimala Rai Poudyal, Member, National Assembly