Inadequate infrastructures, lack of quality seeds and saplings, lack of scientific methods of horticulture practices, and shortage of skilled manpower have impeded horticulture in Nepal
Agronomy, livestock and horticulture are the three major sub-sectors of agriculture. If we review past developmental efforts of Nepali agriculture, we find that agronomy (a branch of agriculture dealing with field-crop production) was on the top priority in terms of public sector investment and human resource development followed by livestock. The main focus of the country was on cereal crop production. Horticulture, which includes fruits, vegetables, floriculture, spices, mushrooms, medicinal and aromatic plants, coconut, tea and coffee, was least prioritized. Most of the horticultural crops were considered as the secondary crops. However, the Agriculture Perspective Plan (1995-2015) recognized some horticultural crops as high value commodities and stressed on research and development programs for their development. Then there was paradigm shift from cereal based agriculture development to horticulture development. Satisfactory progress has been achieved since then in terms of area coverage, production and productivity of vegetables, flowers and some fruits.
The investment in horticulture has been rewarding due to expanding domestic and international markets. Hence, the private sector is more attracted to invest in this subsector, though public sector investment is still the lowest. The hilly and mountain regions of Nepal, which cover about 75 percent of the total land area of the country and makes up the entire northern boundary running from Mahakali in the west to Mechi in the east, have now been well known for horticultural production, especially citrus, apples, potato, off-season vegetables, vegetable seeds, ginger, coffee, orthodox tea, cardamom etc.
How it benefits
Over the years, it has been proved beyond doubt that the productivity of the land, especially in hilly regions could be increased manifold by raising horticultural crops, like fruits, vegetables, flowers and medicine plants. In fact, diversification in agriculture through horticulture is a best option for making prosperous Nepal in a sustainable way. They can make higher contribution to AGDP and provide more income to farmers compared to cereal crops. For example, a farmer can earn 4 to 10 times more by growing horticultural crops compared to other crops.
Horticultural crops are also environment-friendly and some of these crops can be successfully grown even in the marginal lands. Horticultural crops, particularly fruit crops are less affected by drought as compared to seasonal food crops. Therefore they are better suited for rain-fed and dry land conditions.
Furthermore, there are vast areas in the country which are not suitable for growing field crops, but can be utilized for growing certain horticultural crops. Tree fruit crops can be successfully grown along the mountain slope contours, thus providing not only income to hill people, but also checking soil erosion. Under semi-arid rain-fed tropical and sub-tropical conditions, fruits, such as guava, ber, custard apple, are growing successfully. Guava is not only drought tolerant but can also be grown on poorly drained soils. We all know that areas where big cardamom is grown cannot be utilized for the cultivation of other crops. In fact, horticultural crops are adapted to highly variable agro-ecological conditions, from cold temperate to mild sub-tropical to hot tropical and humid regions, and from mountain slopes to lowlands of Tarai.
Fruits and vegetables are also well known for their nutritive value.They are rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and fats. Therefore, the nutritionists have recommended daily consumption of fruits and vegetables for every person. They advise a daily intake of at least 100 gms of various fruits and 200 gms of different vegetables. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, goes the popular saying. The main reason for rising demand for horticultural products, particularly fruits and vegetables is their nutritional value.
The horticulture sector has also an immense potential of generating employment. Additional employment can be generated by developing the horticulture-based agro processing industries. They are highly remunerative for attracting youth. That is why, though the sector is facing severe constrains, it is attracting young entrepreneurs due to its comparative advantages.
However, horticulture in Nepal is constrained with inadequate infrastructural facilities, lack of quality seeds and saplings, lack of scientific methods of horticulture practices, and shortage of skilled manpower. These constraints are responsible for low productivity of lands. More efforts are, therefore, needed to capitalize on the strengths by removing these constrains.
Horticultural development requires a minimum set of basic production factors and strong institutional infrastructures for research and development. Other supporting infrastructures like roads, market centers, cold store along with cold chain, and entrepreneurial management are equally important factors. But the present state of infrastructures to improve efficiency and the linkages of the supply chain is very poor, which is limiting the growth potential of the sector. Due to inefficiency in the supply chain, the price received by the farmers is only about 30 percent of the retail price the consumers have to pay.
Efficient supply chain requires strengthening of infrastructures related to inputs delivery, credit, and irrigation. Development of cold chain network will help in reducing the post-harvest losses of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Improving the post-harvest management enhances overall improvement in the per unit productivity. Link to domestic air and road transport would also help in the reduction of post-harvest losses.
If we want sustainable prosperity, horticulture must be developed. It is because horticulture can contribute significantly in improving all the aspects of prosperity in the hilly country like Nepal. Prosperity is the state of being healthy, wealthy and happy.
Issues related to infrastructures need to be addressed with priority. There is also a strong need to strengthen research in horticultural crops for developing demand-driven technologies. Once technologies are made available, they should be quickly disseminated through extension agencies by encouraging farmers’ participation.
Furthermore, interested groups of young entrepreneurs should be identified and assisted in obtaining access to funding, technical assistance and supply chain partners. These groups should also be encouraged to develop feasibility studies and business plans. The program of horticulture should be accompanied by agro-processing industry. The production strategy should target meeting domestic and export demand of not only fresh products but the processed products as well. For this, at least, one fourth of the total cropped areas in the hills and mountain regions should be occupied by horticultural crops particularly fruits and vegetables.