Federal set up has provided a new opportunity to bring agricultural staff close to farmers. But majority of staffs think in centralized terms
Desired outcome is almost impossible with traditional approach of doing farming. This applies in Nepal’s agriculture sector. Agriculture based on science and technology would definitely yield a better outcome. Technical competencies are required to conduct agricultural researches and package them for farmers. It is required even in order to provide technical advice to the farmers.
In fact, agriculture requires a substantial degree of specialised expertise in specific fields. The strategic priorities of the government should, therefore, be on retaining as well as strengthening the capacity of existing technical manpower.
Based on knowledge and skill of the available human resources in the country, the provincial and local governments should provide necessary enabling framework for effective extension services in partnership with the private sector. Unless agricultural development is professionalized, Nepal cannot be self-reliant in food.
Improved technologies are required to increase productivity, post-harvest management, packaging and marketing of agricultural products. Opportunities for local agro-processing should also be promoted in order to add value to the products. In order to perform these activities effectively and quickly, using modern information and communication technology (ICT) is essential. Skills, knowledge and educational development of farmers are also a key to modern agricultural development.
However, farmers in Nepal are not educated and even not aware of technology. This has not only hampered agricultural productivity, but also affected the overall attitude of farmers toward modernization of agriculture. Though the contribution of agriculture in the GDP is more than 40 percent, it never got priority in any periodic planning. The Agriculture Perspective Plan (APP), introduced with the objective of enhancing productivity, failed to yield desired outcome. Access to a few government educational programs is limited.
Public-private partnership could provide foundation for technology development and dissemination for agriculture development. At present, private sector is expected to increase its provision of goods and services to farmers. Thus the government will have to conduct research in agriculture mainly on efficient use of water, improved management of soil structure and fertility, and developing production technologies for higher productivity.
Youths are increasingly involved in hi-tech agriculture, particularly the greenhouse agriculture using hydroponic and aeroponic techniques. They are seeking more technical and financial support from the government. We lack professionals in these fields at the moment. Applications of biotechnology and genetic engineering are equally important to make our agricultural products competitive.
Climate change is another thematic area demanding continuous agricultural research. This indicates that not only the retention of agricultural experts, but also development of human resources in the newly emerging thematic areas is necessary to increase production and productivity.
Current situation is not favorable for developing and retaining experts in agriculture. On the one hand, there are gaps between available human resources and requirement at the local level. On the other, the available manpower lacks competency. Overlapping of some responsibilities among federal, provinces and local levels, complicated coordination and increase in the financial burden are the major issues. Agriculture sector will have to face many more challenges under such structure in the future. This may result in pushing our agriculture sector 25 years back.
Federal set up has provided an opportunity to bring agricultural staff close to the farmers. But attitude of majority of the staff is centralized. It needs to change. Otherwise career prospects for staff working in the rural councils would be constrained by the limited promotional opportunities. Further education and training opportunities may also be limited. Agricultural services are likely to get little attention and priority by the local leaders, and therefore this sector is expected to suffer more due to funding and other problems.
There are several cases of staffs being assigned to positions that are not supported by their qualifications and expertise. Thus they are inadequately competent to take-up the given responsibilities and perform effectively. Professional development of the staff is often disrupted due to transfer and promotion in non-faculty posts. Currently there are 11 faculties under Nepal Agriculture Service and majority of the posts are faculty-wise. There are few non-faculty posts of general nature where any agriculturist is eligible to get transferred or promoted. These days the tendency is to create more non-faculty posts for generalists. Such practice has become a challenge to retain experts.
The government needs to pay special attention to agriculture sector because it feeds the increasing population. Agriculture sector is different from other institutional setups in that it needs functioning institutions and more competent staff at the bottom to deliver services as per the demands of the farmers. An officer level staff would be required to lead agriculture work even at the village council level. But the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development is proposing gazetted officer to lead the municipality team and a non-gazetted first class staff for village council. This does not serve the need of the agricultural sector. If a junior officer from the administration service is leading the team, the senior officer from other services will be frustrated.
Thus position and leadership will continue to be a thorny issue and will require a robust exercise by a team of experts to settle.
Needless to say, one of the objectives of local level restructuring in agriculture is to provide effective services to the farmers. To meet this objective, we need to change the attitude of the leaders and administrators, and arrange qualified technicians even at the ward level. Winston Churchill once said “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
The first phase of Agriculture Development Strategy is in implementation and the country has entered into the federal system. It is right time to carry out in-depth assessment of the need of the physical infrastructure and human resource needed for all tiers of governments as per the allocated functions provided in the constitution.