KATHMANDU, Feb 27: When the news of a farmer named Puran Mahato from Chitwan destroying a ton of cabbage after failing to get more than two rupees per kg was making rounds last month, Nepali students studying agriculture in Israel were shattered. “Is agriculture really a dying industry in Nepal?” they wondered.
“That kind of news speaks volumes about agriculture in our country. Though we have come here to learn high-tech, innovative techniques for better agricultural production, the farmers’ woes in Nepal worry us,” said Sunil Dahal during an interaction hosted by Nepal Embassy in Tel Aviv recently.
Nepal’s annual agricultural import is worth over Rs 100 billion though over half the population is into agriculture, according to a national data. In the last six months alone, Nepal imported rice worth Rs 16,993 million, vegetables worth Rs 18,227 million and fruits worth Rs 4,674 million from India alone.
Half the land of Israel is desert. With just 3.7 percent of the workforce into farming, the country, however, produces 95 percent of its own food requirements.
“Israel is the world leader in agricultural research and development. So, it’s the best destination for us to learn agro skills. But whether we can apply it partially in our own country depends on the policies and atmosphere,” noted Junu Limbuni, Dahal’s classmate at Kinneret College of Israel.
The technologies Israel follows for agro-products are very expensive. Nepali students learning those technologies in Israel, however, think that Nepal can definitely import a few of those technologies, if not all.
“We have no other dream than to return to Nepal and practice what we have learnt. But we cannot apply the techniques on our own. If the government adopts something like public-private partnership and ensures basic technologies, gives subsidies, we can take a leap in this sector,” said Limbuni.
Kinneret, Askelon, Ramat, Sedot and AICAT are the colleges in Israel where a total of 540 Nepali students selected and funded by Sana Kisan Bank of Nepal in collaboration with respective colleges are pursuing the 11-month course. Before heading to the land of the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth, the students get a short course from CTEVT. The program has been running for the last five years.
“We are the fifth batch of this program and we have no clear idea what our seniors are doing out there in Nepal,” stated Dahal. “If the government facilitates, all fine. Or else, it might turn very hard to go on with farming, sometimes even pushing us into some sector.”
It is not just the news of the Chitwan farmer which has left the students in Israel in confusion about their future prospects. They are well aware of the cases of farmers who destroyed banana, milk, sugarcane, tomato and apple earlier.
“Because of middlemen, cartels or syndicate or India’s massive influence over our market, our farmers are hit hard. Our agricultural industry is ailing,” Limbuni laments.
According to agriculture expert Krishna Poudel, the students’ worries are not groundless though there are some silver linings. “It takes just a strong will to make Nepal agriculturally rich once again.”
“That’s easier said than done, of course. But see, until 20 years ago, we used to export our produces. Now, almost everything we eat comes from India or other countries. So where have we missed? What went wrong in those two decades? We must ponder over this. Once we try to get the answer, we get solutions,” Poudel asserts. “We need to have our own agricultural pattern that suits today’s needs. Subsidies to farmers, good market for home production are the keys.”
Meanwhile, Uddhav Adhikari, president of National Farmer Group Association, wants the government to stop offering just lip service for green revolution. “Middlemen should be eliminated from the distribution system and the government must take measures to encourage farmers,” he said.
Tej Bahadur Subedi, spokesperson for the agriculture and livestock ministry, stated that the ministry is ‘serious’ about addressing the farmers’ issues. “In an open market, the farmers, too, should keep upgrading themselves,” he said.