KATHMANDU, Dec 22: The import of rice soared more than double to Rs 13.57 billion in the first four months of the current fiscal year as compared to the same period of fiscal year 2019/20.
At a time when the government is projecting a significant rise in paddy production in the country, the import of rice surged by a whopping amount during the mid-July to mid-November period, according to the ‘Current Macroeconomic and Financial Situation of Nepal’ released by the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) on Monday. The figure shows that the country is facing dependency at an alarming rate year-on-year on imported foods which is mainly due to the government’s poor implementation of policies to boost agricultural business in the country, according to experts.
The government has projected that paddy production will rise to 5.6 million tons in this season - 50,000 tons more than the paddy production in the last year. But the country’s import bill of rice stood 3.4 percent of the total import expenses worth Rs 402.49 billion.
The NRB data shows that the country is exhausting its foreign currency reserve, the majority of which is earned from remittance inflow, just to purchase the food grain from abroad. In 2018/19, Nepal imported rice worth Rs 32.21 billion which grew to Rs 33.35 billion in the last year.
The soaring imports of rice is mainly blamed on the changing pattern of consumption with people being attracted more to fine rice including basmati rice, which Nepal grows in scanty amounts. Bhola Man Singh, a senior rice expert, said the government now needs to focus on producing fine rice, if it expects to minimize the country’s expenditure on rice imports.
Apart from rice, the import expense of crude soybean oil also rose to a whopping Rs 11 billion from Rs 5.22 billion. Industrialists use the imported raw materials to prepare refined oil to export to India. The import of processed edible oil also grew to Rs 4.35 billion from Rs 2.65 billion during the review period.
In fiscal year 2019/20, Nepal spent Rs 243 billion for importing food which was an increase of Rs 19 billion compared to the previous fiscal year. Nepal is importing an average of 80 percent of the grain it consumes, and the spending on food imports has increased by around 62 percent in the last five years.