Unless Nepali farmers become entrepreneurs, commercial agriculture will not be sustainable in Nepal
The gap between food demand and supply is widening every year in Nepal. With limited fertile land, it is becoming more difficult to feed the growing population. Hence, commercialization of agriculture has been proposed as a feasible option for narrowing down this gap and sustaining economic growth. Government policies and strategies have emphasized a shift from subsistence to commercial farming and profitable commercialization. But commercial agriculture or market-oriented farming requires a more ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to farming. In other words, commercialization of agriculture necessitates the development of the entrepreneurial and organizational competency of the farmers. Millions of farmers are there in Nepal and most of them are not oriented in this direction. Unless some of these farmers are made entrepreneurs, commercial agriculture will not be profitable and sustainable.
Now the question is “Can these farmers become entrepreneurs”? The answer is “Yes”. Farmers all over the world including Nepal have shown a remarkable ability to become entrepreneurs.
Farmers, who are risk takers, love to dream big and are innovative, can easily be transformed to entrepreneurs. Farmers who move innovations forward are entrepreneurial. In other words, a farmer who is innovative, creative, adaptive and recognize opportunities, is an entrepreneur farmer. An entrepreneur is someone who produces for the market and always looks for opportunities to improve and expand his business by taking calculated risks. Farmer-entrepreneurs see their farms as a business. They see their farms as a means of earning profits. But the percentage of such farmers in Nepal is negligible. Most of the farmers, on the other hand, produce keeping in mind their consumption needs.
Entrepreneurship, value chains and market linkages are being discussed more and more while talking about modern day agriculture. Many young and educated people understand that there is little future for farmers unless they become more entrepreneurial in the way they run their farms. They must increasingly produce for markets and for profits. Agriculture is at the heart of a larger economic transformation.
Farmers look for better ways to organize their farms after becoming entrepreneurs. They try new crops and cultivars, better animals, and alternative technologies to increase productivity, diversify production, reduce risk and increase profits. They become more market- oriented and will learn to take calculated risks to open or create new markets for their products. Young and educated farmers have many of the qualities of an entrepreneur.
However, developing capacity as an entrepreneur and as a successful farmer is not an easy task. Many small-scale farmers are not able to develop these capacities without help. They need support to develop ‘entrepreneurial’ skills from extension workers and supporting institutions. They need access to finance, land, labor, information and knowledge to be successful.
Farmers also need right policy and other support to flourish and become entrepreneurs. They can become successful entrepreneurs only if barriers outside their control are removed. Enhancing government investment in agriculture, creating web of irrigation infrastructure, supporting laws and regulations, access to timely and adequate finance and access to effective extension and business development services help them a lot in this journey.
Encouraging thing is farmers, agricultural traders, extensionists and researchers have all realized the need for a more entrepreneurial culture in the farming business. So, if not all farmers, the government should at least start to orient farmers of super zones, zones, blocks and pockets in developing entrepreneurial skill through special training. Then only agriculture in these areas will be commercialized as anticipated.
Research on the development of entrepreneurial and organizational competency in farmers is scarce in Nepal. Thus government research agencies should start research work on this thematic area as soon as possible. By developing entrepreneurial and organizational competency through research, farmers are expected to be able to work in an organized manner and develop sustainable competitive advantages in order to compete successfully in local, national and international markets.
Extension workers can play a major role in helping farmers identify, investigate and evaluate opportunities. Extension workers can also facilitate farmer-to-farmer and farmer-to-research partnerships to identify, develop and test new technologies.
The government also needs to encourage private agencies and institutions which build marketing, business and entrepreneurial skills of farmers, certify farmers and also extend business services to them.
Educating the farmers
Many studies and evaluations on the impact of entrepreneurial trainings suggest that training programs are helpful to make farmers more creative, innovative, motivated and skillful. Thus the training support of the government in the development of entrepreneurial work culture among farmers is very important. Some agriculturists in Nepal take the view that entrepreneurship education in Nepal is not matching with the needs of the farmers. The level of understanding of “what is entrepreneurship” is still low among the trainers. So, we first need to develop trainers of trainings for agro-entrepreneurial training in developing entrepreneurship skills.
Furthermore, the importance of informal training for promoting entrepreneurship among farmers is crucial, especially for those who do not possess formal education in agriculture but are engaged in farming. The training could develop these farmers’ entrepreneurship skills and indirectly create a new breed of farmers to enhance development of agriculture in the country. Efforts should be intensified to encourage agricultural entrepreneurs with training that does not only put emphasis on modern technologies and commercialized viable enterprises, but also on fundamental changes in attitude toward farming as an agribusiness.
A comprehensive curriculum needs to be developed considering all the factors influencing entrepreneurship development for agro-entrepreneurs. Innovative strategies also need to be developed to encourage farmers, particularly youth to attend such informal entrepreneurship training courses. The informal training should be focused on farmers who do have basic educational background and interest in farm business.