Unlocking Rural Agricultural Revitalization in Nepal

Published On: April 30, 2023 09:00 AM NPT By: Dr Alok K Bohara

The increasing trend of globalization, coupled with political infightings and instability, has resulted in a significant number of Nepalese youths seeking employment abroad as their only viable option. Additionally, the failure of Nepal's leadership to implement effective job employment opportunities and modernization in the agricultural sector has further exacerbated this trend.  This has had far-reaching and detrimental long-term consequences for the country, as relying solely on a remittance-based economy without a skilled and motivated workforce of youths at home can severely hinder the overall development and sustainability of, for example, the agricultural sector. This article draws on examples from various countries with diaspora-targeted investment programs and proposes a two-pronged strategy to address in Nepal youth employment and revitalize rural areas.

With millions of Nepalese youths working abroad in places such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the United States, and Australia, and rural lands becoming barren, Nepal has become heavily reliant on importing agricultural products, including rice. This not only poses economic challenges, but also impacts the country's food security and rural livelihoods. The absence of youth in the agricultural sector, who are often the driving force behind innovation and modernization, has led to declining agricultural productivity, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Moreover, a remittance-based economy, where a significant portion of the country's GDP is derived from remittances sent by migrant workers abroad, can have negative impacts on the overall development of Nepal. While remittances provide a source of income for many households, they are primarily used for consumption rather than investments in productive sectors such as the modernization of the rural agriculture sector. Despite these challenges, there are valuable lessons to be learned from successful examples of investment-driven agricultural revitalization efforts driven by returnee migrants in countries like Mexico, Brazil, and South Korea, as well as other countries in Latin America and Africa.

The "Programa 3x1 para Migrantes" (3x1 Program for Migrants) in Mexico is a successful agricultural revitalization effort led by returnee migrants. Through financial contributions matched by federal, state, and local governments, returnee migrants have invested in rural agriculture, such as establishing commercial greenhouses, implementing modern irrigation systems, and improving farming practices. This has resulted in increased agricultural productivity, improved income for local farmers, and reduced rural-urban migration. In states like Oaxaca and Zacatecas, returnee migrants have transformed the rural agriculture sector by improving production, quality, and marketing of agricultural products, leading to increased incomes for local farmers and improved livelihoods. The success of the 3x1 Program reaffirms the importance of collaboration between migrant organizations and local authorities for inclusive decision-making and positive outcomes.

In Brazil, there is a successful example of sending agricultural students abroad for training and utilizing their knowledge upon their return. In the 1960s, Brazil sent close to 1,000 agricultural students to the United States for training. These students returned and used their knowledge to develop research and development plans for suitable crops for different parts of the country. This led to the modernization of agricultural practices, increased productivity, and improved rural livelihoods making Brazil a global power house in agro-industries.

Similarly, South Korea's Saemaul Undong movement, which began in the 1970s, focused on rural development by empowering local communities and leveraging public-private partnerships to revitalize agriculture. Through this initiative, South Korea transformed its rural agricultural sector, leading to increased productivity, improved livelihoods, and reduced rural-urban migration.

The DIA (Diaspora Investment in Agriculture) initiative, launched by the United States Department of State and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), recognizes the significant economic impact of migrant remittances, exceeding $500 billion annually, on countries of origin. Leveraging the resources and expertise of migrant workers, the initiative aims to channel remittances towards investments in agriculture, particularly in rural areas, to create sustainable economic opportunities and foster inclusive development. By tapping into the potential of migrant remittance-driven economies, the DIA initiative seeks to promote sustainable agricultural development, enhance local economies, and improve livelihoods in developing countries.

Nepal, with its significant diaspora population and potential for agricultural development at home, should consider being a part of the DIA (Diaspora Investment in Agriculture) initiative, if it has not already done so. The initiative currently covers countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tunisia, with plans to expand to other countries. By tapping into this initiative, Nepal can leverage the contributions and expertise of its diaspora for investment in agriculture, particularly in rural areas, to create sustainable economic opportunities and foster inclusive development. Joining the DIA initiative could provide Nepal with additional support for its agricultural development goals and contribute to the country's economic growth and rural livelihoods.

Similarly, the European Union Global Diaspora Facility (EUDiF), funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), is a pioneering project that aims to foster an informed, inclusive, and impactful diaspora-development ecosystem on a global scale. EUDiF is dedicated to supporting and engaging with diaspora communities worldwide to harness their potential for economic, social, and cultural development in their countries of origin. Through its innovative approach, EUDiF seeks to strengthen the partnership between diaspora communities and their countries of origin, facilitating collaboration, knowledge exchange, and investment opportunities for diaspora-led development initiatives.

Likewise, several countries in South Asia and Africa have initiated several agriculture investment programs of their own with a focus on their diaspora.  One notable example is Rwanda Agaciro Development Fund, which is a sovereign wealth fund established by the Rwandan government to mobilize financial resources for national development, including in the agriculture sector. The fund actively encourages diaspora investment in agriculture through various incentives such as tax breaks, access to credit facilities, and support services. The Agaciro Development Fund aims to drive inclusive and sustainable economic growth in Rwanda by leveraging the expertise and resources of the diaspora in the agriculture sector and other key areas of the economy.  Senegal’s  "PES" (Plan Senegal Emergent) is another example.

Nigeria has the Nigerian Diaspora Direct Investment Summit (NDDIS), which is an annual event that brings together Nigerian diaspora from various countries to explore investment opportunities in Nigeria's agriculture sector, among others. The NDDIS provides a platform for networking, knowledge sharing, and business matchmaking, with the goal of encouraging diaspora investments in agriculture and agribusiness ventures in Nigeria. The program also provides support services such as legal and financial advisory, market access, and facilitation of partnerships to enable successful diaspora investments in the agriculture sector. There are many such examples in other developing countries who see their diaspora as a vital resource pool.

In conclusion, addressing the challenges of youth migration and declining agricultural productivity in rural areas of Nepal, I propose a two-pronged strategy. 

First, by leveraging the knowledge and expertise of migrant returnees who have gained experience in the agricultural sector abroad (e.g., Israel and Sana Kishan Agriculture Training Project), Nepal can benefit from their knowhow and skills to revitalize its agriculture. This strategy should also include providing start-up funds and support for returnees to establish their own agro businesses, thereby preventing them from falling prey to predatory lenders that currently plague the country. It is important to avoid utilizing this program solely for training students for higher education abroad, as it may defeat the purpose of revitalizing the local landscape.

Second, by actively seeking diaspora investment targeted towards their home districts, with matching funds from local governments similar to Mexico's 3x1 program, Nepal can harness the financial resources and support from its diaspora communities to promote sustainable and productive rural agricultural communities. This type of matching program serves as an incentive for the diaspora to reconnect with their home districts by providing a platform for them to contribute to the development of their communities through agricultural investments. It fosters a sense of ownership, partnership, and collaboration between the diaspora and local authorities, ensuring inclusivity and accountability in the decision-making process.

By learning from successful examples of agricultural revitalization efforts by returnee migrants in other countries, Nepal can prioritize revitalizing its agriculture and tap into the potential of its diaspora communities. This integrated approach, which includes a matching program to promote diaspora engagement and investment, can mitigate youth migration, boost agricultural productivity, promote economic growth, and foster stronger connections between the diaspora and their home districts in Nepal.

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