Mechanization challenges

Published On: December 16, 2018 12:25 AM NPT By: Bhairab Raj Kaini

Inconsistent government policies, inaccessibility of credit in remote areas and scarcity of machinery are among the major challenges of agriculture mechanization

In the present context, where there is negative impact on agriculture due to absence of youths in the farming activities, it has become an urgent need for agricultural mechanization. Furthermore, the demand for machine services will go on increasing if agricultural wages and migration rates increase over time. The trend of young people leaving Nepal for foreign employment is increasing every year. Under such situations, Nepal has no other options than to adopting labor-saving technology in agriculture. 

Mechanization helps solve the problems caused by labor shortages. Studies conducted in other countries have shown that mechanization save seeds up to 15-20 percent and fertilizers 15-20 percent. Machinery can also reduce the time by up to 10-15 percent by improving the efficiency of labor. It can improve the output, reduce the losses and improve the overall quality of the harvest.

Considering the present situation of labor shortage and the importance of agricultural mechanization in lowering cost of production, the government of Nepal has given emphasis on mechanization of farming. The Agricultural Mechanization Promotion Policy (2014) is under implementation. Imports of agricultural machines are heavily subsidized. Many promotional activities have been initiated. The second Nepal AgriTech International Expo was held in Kathmandu from February 15 to 18. It was Nepal’s Largest Exhibition on Farm Machinery. This type of exhibition would certainly help promote farm mechanization, but much more needs to be done.

Constraints and solutions 
There are many issues or constraints that need to be addressed if farming is to be mechanized in the country. Nepal is a mountainous country having difficult terrains and different climatic zones which produce different crops. Thus we need different agricultural equipment for different parts of the country. Nepali agriculture is dominated by smallholder farming composed of multiple plots. It is often assumed that fragmentation coupled with small farm size is an impediment to mechanization. 

The Land Act of Nepal encourages land fragmentation discouraging farmers from acquiring enough land for large scale farming. This hinders agricultural mechanization. Mechanized agriculture is also defeated by the poor state of infrastructures such as poor road network and rural electricity. Inconsistent government policies, inaccessibility of credit in remote areas, scarcity of machinery, and declining average farm size due to rising demographic pressure are other constraints challenging agriculture mechanization.

The costs of farm mechanization are also influenced by the length and width of the plots. Nepali agriculture is often dominated by smallholder farms composed of multiple and small-sized plots. There is an inverse relationship between, farm size, plot size, land fragmentation and mechanization. Pulling together small plots of land to make larger operations and introducing suitable machines can only help boost productivity and lower the costs of production. 

Thus reforming farmland as systematic plots for mechanization should be the first priority of the government. Reforms are also needed to existing terrace farming of hilly region prior to the introduction of mechanization. Reforming the farmland as systematic plot size and design with farm road and appropriate irrigation and drainage system is urgently needed in Tarai as well. Rectangular plots with equal size are considered ideal for mechanization. This is possible in the flat land of Tarai. But land management is a complex process which calls for a holistic approach. An interdisciplinary and inter-institutional coordination mechanism is a must but this is what we are precisely lacking at the moment. Regarding suitability of the machines, small walking type power tillers are suitable to prepare lands in the hilly region whereas 70-80 Hp tractors may be ideal for Tarai.

Furthermore, agricultural mechanization will not be successful if the local economy is unable to deliver servicing, fuel and spare parts for both imported or domestically produced machines and implements. This failure often occurs when markets for these items are fragmented or unevenly developed, when transport infrastructure breaks down, or when new models or unsuitable machines are imported without considering the local needs and availability of spare parts. 

The major technological constraints from farmer’s perspective are difficulty in availability of spare parts, lack of training on operation and maintenance of farm machinery and inadequate facility for servicing and repair of farm machinery. Moreover, the cost of spare parts is also reported to be high.

As majority of farmers are small and cannot afford to buy farm machinery, Custom Hiring Services (CHS) are needed in many places of the rural areas. The CHS provides access to small and marginal farmers to costly farm machinery. It facilitates timeliness in farm operations and efficient use of inputs. It also promotes adoption of climate-resilient practices and technologies by farmers because of availability of appropriate machines at reasonable hiring charges. The local governments should institute three to five Custom Hiring Centers (CHCs) in each rural municipality.

Set the priority 
Although farm mechanization is possible for all crops and activities, Nepal should first focus on mechanization of seed production and processing, cereal crop production and harvesting and post-harvest processing for loss reduction and value addition. Farming of specific crops that produce raw material for agro-industries should also get priority for mechanization.

Agricultural  Engineering  Division under Nepal  Agricultural  Research  Council,  Janakpur Agriculture Development Project (JADP) under Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Development Bank and  Purbanchal  Campus, Institute of Engineering under Tribhuvan University are major research,  extension and education institutions related to agricultural mechanization in Nepal. These institutions should work in collaboration to address all issues of farm mechanization. National, provincial and local governments should come up with specific policies, strategies and programs to manage agricultural land for mechanization. Involvement of entrepreneurs in machinery supply, training and awareness rising is equally important.

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