Agriculture has the potential to spur development in our hills and mountains with their vast agro-climatic variations
Farming is the main means of livelihood for people living in hilly districts. With their wide physiographic, climatic, soil and biological diversity, existing cropping systems up in the hills can be commercialized through diversification. Some hilly districts have already started growing fruits, vegetables, flowers and aromatic and medicinal plants. Others are modernizing dairy and poultry farming.
Integration of crop, livestock and forestry is a key characteristic of hill agriculture. Farming system in the hills relies more on internal resources of the farm than on external resources. But hill farming remains largely traditional to this day. Production is mainly for self-consumption and for distribution in local markets.
Hill farming faces a number of constraints, lack of road access being the most prominent one. Production areas in the hills lack access to main markets due to their poor road networks. Thus our hill products are less competitive. In this context, the under-construction Mid-hill Highway from Chiyabhanjyang of Panchathar in the east and Jhulaghat of Baitadi in the Far-west, covering a total of 1,776 km, can be a real boon for hill agriculture.
Mid-hill highway passes through 24 hill districts, benefitting around seven million people living there. It could prove to be an ‘artery’ to infuse life in less accessible and often stagnant communities in corridor areas. If agricultural market infrastructures are built along the highway, there will be more market access for farmers, which in turn can boost production, greatly benefitting the farmers of the mid-hill region. News jobs will be created and people’s incomes will rise.
Realizing this, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is supporting the Sindhuli Road Corridor Commercial Agriculture Promotion Project (SRC-CAP) for promotion of high-value agriculture in Sindhuli road corridor. This corridor covers four districts of the mid-hill highway: Kavre, Sindhuli, Ramechap and Dolakha. We need more such projects to cover all mid-hill districts with the focus on production of high-potential crops.
Agriculture has the potential to spur development in our hills and mountainous regions with diverse agro-climatic variations, provided there are good roads and proper links between production areas and markets.
Commercialization of high value agriculture will greatly improve rural livelihoods. The government should, therefore, launch special programs to enhance farmers’ capacity in high-value agriculture.
In this connection, mid-hill highway corridors have the potential to produce high-value commercial crops such as tea, large cardamom, zinger, mandarin orange, Junar, pear, kiwifruit, aromatic and medicinal plants, and different types of ornamental plants. Millet and kidney beans, which are in high demand these days, are other high-potential crops. If the production of these crops is integrated with value addition and marketing, there is room for sustainable commercialization of agriculture in our hills.
Organic farming and diversification of agriculture in this corridor are other avenues of growth. Training people on organic food production and value addition is thus important but for this we need innovative ideas, with the ultimate goal of making organic produce of hilly districts able to compete against other products in the market.
We also need to work on marketing and branding of products so that they can be sold anywhere. We can establish brands like ‘Sindhuli Junar,’ ‘Illam tea’ and ‘Khoku orange’.
But this is the potential. The existing state of agricultural market network in hilly districts does not inspire much hope. In most places, farmers do not have organized agricultural markets. We can solve this problem by establishing agricultural market hubs in places like Phidim, Basantapur, Khurkot and Galchhi, and then link these hubs with production areas through new agricultural roads.
The next order of business is to establish collection centers at strategic points and build storage facilities at market hubs. The most crucial factor is thus to link producers with markets. When there is this link, herbal and aromatic products can also be developed using ‘cluster approach’ and ‘contract farming’, both of which will boost commercialization of agriculture.
Besides setting up markets, non-profit agencies like cooperatives can be called upon to play an intermediary role between the backward and forward links. We should also look to build terminal markets for exports. Well-developed physical infrastructure, road and electronic connectivity, and adequate power and water resources, however, are the prerequisites for this.
Regarding inputs, the quality and price of the seeds, fertilizers and pesticides can be reduced for farmers. This will add to their income as cost of production will be reduced and yields will improve.
The tasks of need identification and market development should be participatory, and the government must involve local communities to devise special markets for specific locations and commodities.