Importing fruit plants for commercial production should not be encouraged because our quarantine and monitoring systems are weak
The agro-ecological conditions of Nepal are much suitable for the successful cultivation of a large number of fruit species. More than 40 species of fruit crops are grown in different parts of the country. Growing fruits in homestead gardens is a traditional practice. However, commercial production is still at infant stage. The contribution of fruit sub-sector to Agricultural GDP is 5.24 percent. Regarding area coverage, it is about 3.34 percent of the total cultivated land. Due to expanding markets and suitable growing conditions, the area under different fruits is in increasing trend. Hence, the demand of fruit plants is increasing every year. At present, annual fruit plant distribution is about 800000 but the annual demand is for more than a million.
The fruit plant production function was the public sector function up to 1974 and there was always shortage of fruit plants in the country. Realizing this fact, the government initiated establishing private nurseries in intensive fruit production areas from 1975 onwards. In this context, the celebration of the ‘Agriculture Year’ in 1975 was an important milestone. Nursery owners were trained in different aspects of fruit plant production and they were then supported to establish the nurseries. Then private nurseries were established in many parts of the country and the function of fruit sapling production was gradually shifted from the government farms to these private nurseries. In 2014, the number of registered private fruit nurseries in Nepal reached to 32 for citrus, 161 for winter fruits and 53 for summer fruits. The share of private nurseries in sapling production and distribution is about 97 percent.
Demand for high quality fruit sapling is increasing in recent years due to the involvement of young farmers in commercial fruit production. Availability of Quality Planting Material (QPM) at reasonable costs, however, is a challenge. The main suppliers of fruit plants are the private nurseries. Most of them are producing and selling low quality fruit plants. This is one of the main reasons that demand for high quality fruit plants imported from abroad is increasing.
Risks of import
But it is important to recognize the risks posed by plant imports to fruit crops. Importing plants poses potential risks of introducing new pests and diseases. Even plant material that appears healthy may be harboring pests and diseases. If we decide to bring in plants from abroad, we must ensure that the relevant plant health regulations are complied with.
Import of fruit plants in Nepal is regulated by the Plant Protection Act (2008). Under this Act and the Plant Protection Rules (2010), an import permit is required for plant and plant products including fruits, leaves, and seeds. As per the plant protection rule, a person or body that intends to import to Nepal any plants including fruit plants has to make an application. If an import is made for the purpose of research, a request letter of the researcher (person or organization) and recommendation made by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council is also required.
For import of plants, an importer has to apply to the Plant Quarantine office for import permit. The application form (Annex 10) is to be filled in with details of the plant and purpose of importation. Documents like income tax registration, enterprise registration, and recommendation letter of the National Fruit Development Center (NFDC) are also to be submitted along with the application. The NFDC is making recommendation just on ad hoc basis. In order to make the recommendation more scientific and reliable, the NFDC is preparing a draft procedure as per the provision of Plant Protection Act. This procedure is yet to be finalized and approved by the government.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development has a separate Plant Quarantine and Pest Management Center (PQPMC) at Harihar Bhawan premises in Pulchowk in addition to 15 quarantine checkpoints at the customs posts of Kakarvita, Biratnagar, Bhatabari, Jaleswor, Malanba, Birgunj, Tatopani, Rasuwa, Bhairahwa, Krishna Nagar, Lomathang, Nepalgunj, Gaddachauki, Jhulaghat and Tribhuvan International Airport. All these 15 offices conduct quarantine examination and issue import permits and phytosanitary certificates. Normally the phytosanitary certificate is issued abroad at the place of origin and produced at the customs for the clearance of imported plants. Only doubtful cases are examined at the quarantine customs checkpoints.
Measures to be taken
Importing fruit plants for commercial production should not be encouraged. It is because our quarantine and monitoring systems are very weak. Citrus greening was introduced in Pokhara during the sixties due to free import of citrus plants from the neighboring country. There are reports of soft rot disease that appeared first time in Jumla areas of Nepal two years ago with introduced spur type apple plants. The soft rot disease is a quarantine disease to Nepal but unfortunately, due to the negligence and weak monitoring system, we now have to suffer from this malady.
Nepal’s first strategy should, therefore, be to develop a system to produce sufficient fruit plants within the country. This is quite possible with little efforts. We have already many private nurseries and the government has programs to strengthen them. Only question is how to make this nursery strengthening program effective. Right selection of nurseries for strengthening, developing and implementation of complete package of strengthening program, providing trainings to nursery owners in hi-tech nursery management, and strict and regular supervision with the standard protocol are some of the ways out for improving the performance of the private nurseries. The government horticulture farms should be made responsible for training, regular monitoring and supervisions.
If we are not in a position to produce required number of fruit plants in the country for the first two to three years, then we should follow the following modality for the import. After checking plants at the quarantine check posts, sanitization treatment should be given and certified tag should be attached. Only commercial growers of pockets, blocks, zones, and super-zones having area of more than five ha should be permitted to import fruit plants. The imported fruit plants should be planted only in the designated areas. And finally, internal quarantine should be enforced. Even taking scion from these saplings should be strictly prohibited till fruiting.