Time to revive agriculture

Published On: April 5, 2020 09:52 AM NPT By: Bhairab Raj Kaini

The government should take this crisis as an opportunity to revive agriculture of the country

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is primarily a public health crisis, experts are now voicing their concerns that the virus could have a much broader impact on the global economy. The UN's trade and development agency says the slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak could cost the global economy up to two trillion dollars this year. It will certainly impact agriculture as well. Some agriculture experts and entrepreneurs have made some observations that social distancing, reduced social and religious functions, minimizing travel, avoiding crowds, closures, and other protective practices will have impact on markets and prices of food items, dairy products, meat, flowers, and ornamental plants. There is a supply chain slowdown affecting the transportation of fertilizer, fuel, and other production inputs.

Farmers in Nepal are a relatively older population due to youth migration. They are mostly uneducated and have no access to health facilities. As Covid19 has a much higher level of severity for those in their 60s and above, it can be said that farming population is more likely to be affected by it. Furthermore, even if the farming population infection rate remains relatively low, it is highly likely that workers will need to be out of work to stay home to care for sick or elderly family members.

There may also be shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other protective equipment vital for operating a farm safely and keeping workers and animals healthy. Many farmers are also facing acute cash flow difficulties and wonder about the impacts on processing industries.

Cancellation of flights and the nationwide lockdown have resulted in thousands of job losses. Nepalis have been barred from going on foreign employment and the countries that host Nepali laborers are also placing travel restrictions on Nepalis. Major labor destination countries such as Malaysia, South Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and UAE are themselves scrambling to control the spread of Covid19. Businesses are shutting down. If labor migration stops for the next six months, Nepali migrants will have to return home, which will result in the rise of unemployment in Nepal. This will also have consequences on the livelihoods of many people.

Agriculture is and will likely continue to be the dominant sector of employment over the next few decades. It is because of the high demand for agricultural products regionally and globally creates good job opportunities in the sector. Significant incremental growth can be achieved by improving the productivity of both land and labor without displacing labor.

Most of the landless people will take formal or informal wage work on large commercial farms, in the processing and service sectors, or seasonally on small farms during peak periods. Wage work varies from low-skilled and low-paid day labor to jobs in primary production and processing that require and reward higher skills. Agriculture brings about sustainability, job creation and entrepreneurship. Agriculture can generate employment in Nepal over the coming decades provided it is supported with agro-industries in processing, packaging, transportation, distribution, and marketing.

Thus the government should take this crisis as an opportunity to revive agriculture of the country. This is the right time to work toward becoming self-reliant in agriculture by involving jobless people. For this, we need enabling policies and comprehensive local development strategies. Local-level programs related to agriculture need to be focused on what young people want. Governments at all levels will have to stimulate growth in wage employment in the productive sector in order to address the massive youth employment challenge.

Programs aimed at integrating young people into agricultural activities should have a strong awareness-raising component. Young rural people commonly underestimate the potential of agriculture. Campaigns for awareness should, therefore, include information about market requirements, product standards, knowledge needed, innovative tools and new production methods.

Youths can explore potentials in agriculture but they require a different mix of capital, land, and skills. Improving access to land can be the most common means for those young people who do not possess the land. At the same time, they will also need skills to manage higher-valued agriculture and some capital to run the business. There can be a paradigm shift in agriculture from traditional to commercialization if these needs are addressed by the government.

Successful agricultural businesses rely on strong linkages with actors along the value chain. If young people are involved in such networks of the value chain through farmers’ organizations or cooperatives, it will help them to gain trust and build solidarity with other actors.

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