By Rajaram Karki, KATHMANDU:- Agronomists predict that Nepal could be self-sufficient on rice production in less than five years if the uncultivated land was abundantly utilized.
The 2011/12 Agriculture Census of Nepal (conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics) showed that one million hectares of land in the country remains uncultivated. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, around 3,100,000 hectares of land is cultivable in Nepal.
The government in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year (2021-22) announced to make the country self- sufficient within the next five years. Though prior to this, it was, through the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project, announced to make the country self-sufficient on rice with in the three years, the goal remained unmet.
It has been already over a decade when the country witnessed the last agriculture census and there is no statistics about the change in the size and structure of cultivable land. We do not have data about the area of plotted land (for commercial and residential use) and the area of land damaged and eroded by floods over this period of time.
Each government in the past three years has, through the budget speech, promised to come up with effective provisions against the culture of keeping land uncultivated. The budget since the past two fiscal years also stated about the provision of a land bank to address the issue.
In the budget speech on May 29, Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel said each province would have a land bank. Though the government is raising this issue this or that way in its yearly budget, no substantive achievement is in hand so far and the country continues to be largely dependent on the import of rice to meet the domestic requirements for many years.
The country imports rice worth Rs 2.5 billion every month from India and other countries, contributing to the ballooning trade deficit, the data show.
The new budget (point no 108) is about making the country self-sufficient on milk and vegetables in the next two years, on wheat, maize, millet and buckwheat in three years and on rice in five years.
According to the Department of Customs, 300 million kilos of rice was imported from India in the first six months of the current fiscal and 7 million 33 thousand kilos from the USA. Similarly, 330 million kilos of maize was imported from India while 2 million 400 thousand kilos was imported each from Brazil and Argentina and 350 thousand kilos was purchased from South Africa in this period.
There had been a big drop in the production of crops, according to the census of agriculture, 2011/12. Rice production dropped six per cent, corn 12 per cent, wheat six per cent, millet 19 per cent and buckwheat 40 per cent.
Likewise, production of barley decreased 35 per cent, mustard 13 per cent and legume crop 21 per cent. There have been challenges in the effective implementation of the government’s goals of making the country self-reliant on rice within next five years due to lax implementation of budget, viewed senior crop production specialist Bhola Man Singh Basnet.
Rice is the staple crop of the country. The crop has been grown in around 1.5 million hectares of land, according to available data. It requires around 6 million metric tonnes of rice annually to feed over 30 million populations of the country, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. However, the country has produced approximately 5.6 million metric tonnes of rice.
Rice holds economic, social and cultural importance in the country. Over 130 varieties of rice seeds have been recommended. Rice crops have been grown in around 1.5 million hectares of land in the country. Rice production has directly affected gross domestic production (GDP) of the country. Rice production accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Project for Agriculture Commercialization and Trade (PACT) was launched in collaboration with the World Bank and was implemented for nearly a decade since 2009. It aimed to commercialize agriculture sector.
Before PACT was phased out, the government of Nepal has already forwarded the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project since 2073/74 BS to gain self-sufficiency in rice within three years.
Although it has been around four years since the implementation of the Project, Nepal is yet to optimize the rice harvest and fails to gain self-sufficiency in rice production. The government has allocated Rs 7.98 billion for the Project for the new fiscal year 2021/22.
National Agricultural Research Council (NARC)’s former senior scientist Dr Bhawan Prasad Tripathi argued that Nepal could gain self-sufficiency in rice within five years if the government takes into account a number of measures such as construction of big irrigation projects and plantation of monsoon season paddy crop on 400 thousand hectares area.
He also recommended banning the digging of the ponds in the arable land in the Terai and suggested the government to provide farmers cultivating dry season paddy crop machines to dry their harvest. RSS
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